What is a Vulnerability Assessment and How Does It Work?

man and woman performing a vulnerability assessment

A Vulnerability Assessment (VA) is a risk-based analytical process to evaluate the effectiveness of security systems to protect identified assets. This process can be used to evaluate assets such as schools, banks, churches, or electrical, nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities from both a physical security and a cybersecurity standpoint. 

The VA process identifies and analyzes weaknesses and gaps in security while classifying and prioritizing them based on the severity level of potential risks. It also develops corrective actions and identifies funding and resources, conducts performance testing, and develops an implementation strategy report and implementing plans of action, training, and follow-up.

Their Purpose

A VA uncovers threats and security gaps which may include accidental mistakes, misconfigurations, and poor processes. Additionally, it may reveal other concerns such as failure to implement standards, insider threats, hackers, and other malicious actions. The intent is to find current and future system gaps and weaknesses. Scans, manual review tools, and internal and external “white hatters,” whose job it is to hack into a system in order to locate any threats, may all be used to identify detailed information for mitigation and solutions. 

How They Work

These risk-based tools are used to protect assets from defined threats that may adversely impact or pose significant danger to the health of an organization, its material(s) people, and property. Additionally, a VA may evaluate whether a cyber system has been exposed to known weaknesses, and if so, assign severity levels to them. Furthermore, it can make recommendations including remediation, mitigation, and/or corrective actions enhancing security.

Types of Assessments

There are many different assessments encompassing a vast spectrum of threats, originating from both insiders and outsiders. These threats include diversion and sabotage. Assessments use a multifaceted approach, including scrutinizing applications, networks, databases, and host systems. By addressing these aspects of security concerns, organizations can systematically identify and mitigate potential risks. 

Conducting a Vulnerability Assessment

The first step is gathering essential information and identifying requirements. Assessors must consider operational impacts if vulnerabilities or unacceptable risks are identified and prioritize risks for mitigation planning. The process also includes scheduling, determining the formality of the assessment, deciding if there will be any announced or unannounced performance reviews, and conducting inbriefs to clarify scope and methodology. 

Assessors develop reports to highlight gaps and other issues, including new and previously identified issues. They also consider mitigation status, validate data with subject matter experts, and they implement corrective actions with due dates and milestones. Conducting training sessions and implementing periodic reassessments are also integral to maintaining security.

Challenges and Limitations

Organizations must navigate challenges and limitations. Adequate technical expertise and knowledge are essential for effectively conducting assessments. Resource allocation, including budget considerations, plays a pivotal role in their execution. Training and education are imperative to keep teams equipped for the task. Recognizing the potential need for external technical support is vital for comprehensive assessments. Furthermore, defining how and by whom risk can be formally accepted is a key aspect of this security process.

The Importance of Regular Assessments

Regular assessments play a pivotal role in maintaining robust security measures. They’re essential for identifying and mitigating the ever-evolving threat landscape, so organizations stay one step ahead of potential risks. Additionally, regular VAs foster a culture of continuous security improvement.


Vulnerability assessments emerge as a vital tool for upholding a safe and effective security system, be it in the realm of physical or virtual security. They encompass many different considerations, ranging from identifying evolving threats to meticulously planning and executing risk mitigation strategies. By conducting regular assessments and addressing any challenges head-on, organizations can fortify their defenses, fostering a culture of continuous security improvement. In an ever-changing landscape of risks, vulnerability assessments stand as a cornerstone in the foundation of comprehensive security strategies, ensuring organizations remain well-prepared to deal with emerging threats, whether physical or virtual. GEM is happy to help you with all of your VA needs. To learn more, get in touch with us today.