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Complete Guide to Vulnerability Scanning

Technology has been a boon, enabling us to stay interconnected in a few clicks. However, it has also introduced major problems for society, having many vulnerabilities that allow threat actors to take advantage of your company’s sensitive information. 

As companies trend towards digitalization, they are also presented with increasing challenges with business risks such as data breaches and system intruders. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 Million — which is an enormous amount of money if you are a company struggling to stay profitable. 

Vulnerabilities are deadly enough to make you shutter your business overnight. There are tools effective enough to help you mark all of them in your system for mitigation. Vulnerability scanning tools, as they are popularly known, are a lifesaver, safeguarding your company from breaches and other hazards. 

With so many available options, it can be challenging to pick the right one for your system. A quick read through this article will help you understand the fundamentals and the complete guide to vulnerability scanning — everything you need to know to revamp your security details. 

What is Vulnerability Scanning in Cyber Security?

Vulnerability scanning is the process of scanning your digital infrastructure to identify any weak spots (vulnerabilities) that can be an entry point for threat actors. The scans are carried out through software known as vulnerability scanners. 

The insight that the scanners provide to companies is crucial in ensuring a robust, secure network. Any vulnerability detected by a scanner works as a weak point in your system. Weak points like these are most sought after by hackers as they are easy to exploit. 

How Does Vulnerability Scanning Work?

Vulnerability scanners run automatically by first making an inventory of all assets connected to a network. This inventory map contains the device ID and each device’s operating system on the network, which is further analyzed to pinpoint probable vulnerabilities.

How Does Vulnerability Scanning Work?

Vulnerability scanners are connected to a database of known vulnerabilities that they use to check for all the weaknesses in your system. The continuous process of scanning for vulnerabilities, identifying them, and then patching them up is cumulatively known as Vulnerability Management.

Vulnerability scanning can be carried out in two ways, depending on what infrastructure the company is using. 

  • Server-Based Vulnerability Scanning involves assessing and identifying security weaknesses within the infrastructure of an individual server or a local network. It typically relies on on-premises solutions and tools to scan and analyze system configurations, applications, and services for potential vulnerabilities, providing insights into areas that require patching or remediation.
  • Cloud-Based Vulnerability Scanning extends the scanning process to cloud environments. Leveraging online tools and services, it assesses the security posture of virtual machines, cloud servers, and associated services. It offers a scalable and dynamic approach to identifying and addressing vulnerabilities within cloud-based infrastructures.

The Vulnerability Scanning Process

An effective vulnerability scanning process consists of a series of steps that help to effectively mark all vulnerabilities in a system:

  • Step 1: Discovering all assets.
  • Step 2: Identifying and assessing the vulnerabilities.
  • Step 3: Marking the vulnerabilities based on their severity by taking reference from common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS) criteria. 
  • Step 4: Mitigating all vulnerabilities based on their threat level. 
  • Step 5: Continuous monitoring to ensure the vulnerabilities haven’t returned. 

Example Of Vulnerability Scanning

To give you an example of how vulnerability scanning works, imagine having an outdated device connected to your network. Outdated devices have weak defenses, making them an easy target for hackers. Vulnerability scanners allow you to identify devices like these and stress that they must be updated. 

Importance Of Vulnerability Scanners

Looking at the pace with which new data breaches are getting reported, it is critical for companies to invest heartily in ensuring top-notch security. Very recently, CloudDefense.AI reported a data breach in a Chinese e-commerce company that had its database exposed on the internet. 

The database was not password protected, resulting in anyone with a web browser being able to access it. Instances like these demonstrate why good vulnerability scanners are important. If the company had adopted the required security measures, they could have averted this disaster, which exposed 3.3 Million Chinese Resident IDs

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability Scanning tools are an essential part of your company’s cybersecurity detail. Below, we have outlined some of the many benefits of vulnerability scanning. 

Identifying Vulnerabilities Before They Are Exploited

Hackers also use vulnerability scanners to identify any vulnerabilities in a company’s system. Hackers use this data to design their attack path and find the most vulnerable point of entry into the system. Ironically, companies use these same vulnerability scanners to identify all exposable vulnerabilities in the system. This keeps you ahead of cybercriminals, allowing you to beat them at their own game. 

Helps to Analyse The Severity of Risks

Vulnerability scanners can provide you with real-time data on the vulnerabilities they detect. These data can be used to derive the severity of the risks to your system. Vulnerability scanners use these metrics to suggest high-priority vulnerabilities that should be mitigated immediately. 

Efficiently Manage Resources

The complex nature of digital and cloud infrastructure makes keeping track of your assets and other resources challenging. Vulnerability scanners help you to keep track of all your vulnerabilities effectively.

Saving Costs

We first mentioned how data breaches can prove costly for companies. From allotment of resources for damage control to legal damages from customers suing the company, a single vulnerability in your environment can be fatal. Vulnerability scanning, however, helps save your company money as well as time. As per the same report by IBM, companies that use security tools can save up to $1.76 Million

Staying Compliant with Industry Regulations

Almost all regulatory bodies with policies set for data protection require companies to have appropriate security measures to protect data privacy, confidentiality, and security. Vulnerability scanners are essential to fill that gap in companies, allowing companies to maintain a secured infrastructure. 

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Different vulnerability tools are capable of taking care of different types of vulnerabilities in the system. We have outlined some of the most common vulnerability scanning methods here.

  • External Vulnerability Scanning: External scanners work outside the organization’s network perimeters. These scanners work as the ones used by threat actors to identify exploitable vulnerabilities from outside the organization. 
  • Internal Vulnerability Scanning: Internal scanners, on the other hand, help to scan from inside the organization. They help in finding any vulnerabilities that the organization may contain internally. 
  • Assessment Vulnerability Scanning: This scanner is used to analyze the properties of an infrastructure, mainly all the devices connected to it.
  • Authenticated Vulnerability Scanning: Authenticated scanners act as a legitimate user logged into a system, using their perspective to point out all the vulnerabilities.
  • Unauthenticated Vulnerability Scanning: Unauthenticated scanners act as intruders logged into a system, using their perspective to point out all the vulnerabilities.
  • Compliance Vulnerability Scanning: Compliance vulnerability scanners help identify resources non-compliant with different regulation policies. 
  • Port Scanning: Port scanner tools help to scan for open ports that hackers can use to get information on your system.
  • Database Scanning: Database scanners help check databases and mark any malicious activity. 

Difference Between Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is another method used to find vulnerabilities in a system. However, some differences help in telling it apart from vulnerability scanning.

Vulnerability ScanningPenetration Testing
Purpose of The ToolVulnerability scanning simply works as a security tool that helps scan for any system vulnerabilities. Penetration testing imitates an actual cyber attack to identify any vulnerabilities that can be used to bring harm to the system. Penetration testing also helps judge the amount of damage a hacker can cause. 
Scope of the ToolA vulnerability scanner uses a database of known vulnerabilities and marks all the entry points in your system based on their severity. Penetration testing has a broader scope as it allows you to create a cyber attack comprising several different attack methods manually. 
Is Automation Available?Yes, automation is available. It is very effective in carrying out routine check-ups of your system. Yes, automation is available; however, a large portion of the testing requires you to create the scenarios manually. Effective penetration testing requires manual intervention over automation. 
Reporting CapabilitiesProvides a report with all the identified vulnerabilities, their severity, and tips for mitigating them. Provides a more detailed report, including what methods were used to carry out the attack. 

How Frequently Should You Scan Your Systems?

The frequency of system scans should align with your company’s risk tolerance, compliance requirements, and the dynamic nature of your IT environment. Regular automated scans, conducted daily, weekly, or monthly, help identify known vulnerabilities. Critical systems or those in high-risk environments may require more frequent analysis.

Companies should scan after significant changes, comply with industry regulations, and adapt to emerging threats. Continuous monitoring tools and a risk-based approach ensure an active stance against evolving security challenges. You can tailor the scanning frequency to balance security needs with available resources, promoting a resilient and adaptive security posture.

Before Performing Your First Scans

Once you’ve selected a vulnerability scanner, ensure your systems are accessible. If the scanner can’t discover open ports due to a firewall or inaccessibility, it might fail to identify all vulnerabilities. You must pay attention to intrusion prevention systems (IPS/IDS) or web application firewalls (WAFs) protecting your systems, as misconfigurations can affect the scanner. 

While these security measures are valuable, they must be configured to enable the vulnerability scanner to carry out effective scans. Whitelisting your vulnerability scanner ensures that it can assess vulnerabilities beneath protective layers. This is critical for scenarios where a vulnerability in the defensive system is exploited or a compromised system is whitelisted. 

On the other hand, relying solely on IPS and WAF for protection is risky, as they aren’t foolproof. Bypass techniques and undetectable attacks exist. Whitelisting your scanner maximizes the chances of uncovering security issues that might be otherwise blocked.

Vulnerability Scanning Challenges

Vulnerability scanning is beneficial, but it brings several challenges along with it. Below, we have listed some of the limitations of vulnerability scanners that you must know.

False Alerts: False positive or negative alerts can harm a company; vulnerability scanners do this frequently. Fake alerts like these require the company to either dedicate all its resources to finding a vulnerability that doesn’t exist or overlook a potential threat that can prove to be detrimental in the future. 

Scans Affect Performance: Vulnerability scans can take a toll on the performance of your system. This may affect business operations. It is best to find a scanning time that helps to keep you secure while not affecting other processes running on your system. 

Maintaining an Inventory of Assets: Scanners work best when there is a proper inventory of all the assets in your company. This turns out to be challenging in modern environments, which tend to be dynamic, with an everchanging number of assets connected to the network. 

Scan Radar Is Limited: A lot of vulnerability scanners do not work well in complex environments, as there are layers of assets. This leads to potential blind spots that may contain vulnerabilities waiting to be exploited. 

Traditional Scanners Are Not Effective: Normal vulnerability scanners available in the market are ineffective when dealing with advanced vulnerabilities or other zero-day threats. This is a bad investment that will still keep the company vulnerable. 

Best Practices for Vulnerability Scanning 

Here are a few best practices that you can follow to overcome the challenges you might face with vulnerability scanners.

Try Out The Scanner Before Buying: With so many vulnerability scanners available in the market, it can be a tough job to finalize the one that will work best for you. Most big cloud security or cybersecurity companies offer free demos of their scanners, allowing you to get a hands-on experience with the product before you buy it. 

Check If The Scanner Is Compatible with Your Existing Tools: Different aspects of protecting your infrastructure are going to require different tools. This poses a great challenge when it comes to ensuring compatibility between the tool you are going to buy and your existing set of tools. 

It is best to opt for CNAPPs like CloudDefense.AI if you are considering revamping your security measures. Platforms like the one offered by CloudDefense.AI allow you to tackle varying security challenges from a single suite. This eliminates any concerns of incompatibility and the hassle of managing different tools. 

Buy a Vulnerability Scanner That Is Noise-Free: Being noise-free typically implies the capability of a scanner to give off as few false alerts as possible. There are very few companies that offer such services, but you can always consider CloudDefense.AI due to its effectiveness in this aspect. 

Automate Scans: For vulnerability scanners to be effective, it is important to ensure continuous scans of your infrastructure. New vulnerabilities can pop up at any moment, and it is important to address them as soon as possible. 


Can Vulnerability Scanning Eliminate Security Risks?

Vulnerability scanning helps to identify any hidden vulnerability that may be lying in your infrastructure. By marking these vulnerabilities, you are substantially reducing security risks to your organization from cyber-attacks. However, this doesn’t reduce security risks entirely, as there are still chances of unintentional human errors exposing the system.

What Makes A Good Vulnerability Scanner?

A good vulnerability scanner can identify known vulnerabilities through an updated database without giving off any false alerts. Most importantly, it should be able to scan your network constantly to find vulnerabilities in real time. 

What Are Some Other Methods Used To Identify Vulnerabilities?

Some common methods that are used to identify vulnerabilities other than vulnerability scanners are:

1. Security Audits
2. Penetration Testing. 
3. Industry Risk Assessments.
4. Incident Response. 

What Are The Main Types of Vulnerabilities That A Vulnerability Scanner Can Detect?

A vulnerability scanner works best in detecting the following vulnerabilities in a system:

1. Operating System Vulnerabilities.
2. Software/Application Vulnerabilities.
3. Network Services Vulnerabilities.
4. Database Vulnerabilities.
5. Web Application Vulnerabilities.


Vulnerability scanning is the most essential thing a company can do to boost its cyber security measures. Often overlooked by organizations, they can be very effective in finding known vulnerabilities in your system that attackers can target. However, with so many options available for you to buy, you should keep in mind the challenges and the best practices that we have mentioned in this complete guide to vulnerability scanning. 

We hope this has been a great read for you, consider reading our article on building a vulnerability management program next to get more insight on threat mitigation. 

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
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