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5 Best Network Vulnerability Scanning Tools in 2024


Network vulnerability scanning provides in-depth insight into your organization’s security posture and highlights the specific types of vulnerabilities attackers may exploit when targeting it. 

These tools work by systematically scanning your network environment — including all desktops, laptops, mobile endpoints, servers, and other assets for known weaknesses and misconfigurations. Your analyzer then produces a detailed report that tells you exactly how hackers might breach your systems.

Find out how these important tools contribute to successfully managing your security policies and protecting sensitive assets from cybercriminals and malware.

What is Network Vulnerability Management?

Network vulnerability scanners are cybersecurity solutions typically delivered under a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. These solutions match your network asset configurations with a comprehensive list of known misconfigurations and security threats, including unpatched software, open ports, and other security issues.

By comparing system details against a comprehensive database of known vulnerabilities, network scanning helps pinpoint areas of weakness that could potentially be exploited by threat actors. This proactive approach is essential for maintaining robust network security and protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access and cyberattacks.

This provides your organization with several valuable benefits:

  • Early detection of known security vulnerabilities. If your organization is exposed to security threats that leverage known vulnerabilities, you’ll want to address these security gaps as soon as possible.
  • Comprehensive data for efficient risk management. Knowing exactly how many security vulnerabilities your organization is exposed to gives you clear data for conducting in-depth risk management.
  • Regulatory compliance. Many regulatory compliance frameworks like SOC 2, ISO 27001, and PCI DSS require organizations to undergo regular vulnerability scanning.
  • Reduced costs. Automating the process of scanning for vulnerabilities reduces the costs associated with discovering and remediating security weaknesses manually.

Key Features and Functions

The best network security vulnerability scanners have several important features in common:

  • Prioritized vulnerability assessment tools. You need to be able to assess and prioritize vulnerabilities based on their severity. This allows you to commit security resources to addressing high-priority vulnerabilities first, and taking care of low-impact weaknesses afterwards.
  • Automation and real-time analysis. Manual scanning is a difficult and time-consuming process. Your vulnerability scanner must support automated, ongoing scanning for real-time vulnerability detection, providing on-demand insights into your security risk profile.
  • Integration with remediation tools: The best network vulnerability scanners integrate with other security tools for quick mitigation and remediation. This lets security teams quickly close security gaps and move on to the next, without having to spend time accessing and managing a separate set of security tools.

How Network Vulnerability Scanning Tools Work

Step 1. Scanning Process

Initial network mapping is the first step in the vulnerability scanning process. At this point, your scanner maps your entire network and identifies every device and asset connected to it. This includes all web servers, workstations, firewalls, and network devices.

The automatic discovery process should produce a comprehensive map showing how your network is connected, and show detailed information about each network device. It should include comprehensive port scanning to identify open ports that attackers could use to gain entry to the network.

Step 2. Detection Techniques

The next step in the process involves leveraging advanced detection techniques to identify known vulnerabilities in the network. Most network vulnerability scanners rely on two specific techniques to achieve this:

  • Signature-Based Detection: The scanner checks for known vulnerabilities by comparing system details against a database of known issues. This database is drawn from extensive threat intelligence feeds and public records like the MITRE CVE Program.
  • Heuristic Analysis: This technique relies on heuristic and behavioral techniques to identify unknown or zero-day vulnerabilities based on unusual system behavior or configurations. It may detect suspicious activities that don’t correspond to known threats, prompting further investigation.

Step 3. Vulnerability Identification

This step involves checking network assets for known vulnerabilities according to their unique risk profile. This includes scanning for outdated software and operating system versions, and looking for misconfigurations in network devices and settings.

Most network scanners achieve this by pinging network-accessible systems, sending them TCP/UDP packets, and remotely logging into compatible systems to gather detailed information about them. Highly advanced network vulnerability scanning tools have more comprehensive sets of features for identifying these vulnerabilities, because they recognize a wider, more up-to-date range of network devices.

Step 4. Assessment and Reporting

This step describes the process of matching network data to known vulnerabilities and prioritizing them based on their severity. Advanced network scanning devices may use automation and sophisticated scripting to produce a list of vulnerabilities and exposed network components.

First, each vulnerability is assessed for its potential impact and risk level, often based on industry-wide compliance standards like NIST. Then the tool prioritizes each vulnerability based on its severity, ease of exploitation, and potential impact on the network. Afterwards, the tool generates a detailed report outlining every vulnerability assessed and ranking it according to its severity. These reports guide the security teams in addressing the identified issues.

Step 5. Continuous Monitoring and Updates

Scanning for vulnerabilities once is helpful, but it won’t help you achieve the long-term goal of keeping your network protected against new and emerging threats. To do that, you need to continuously monitor your network for new weaknesses and establish workflows for resolving security issues proactively.

Many advanced scanners provide real-time monitoring, constantly scanning the network for new vulnerabilities as they emerge. Regular updates to the scanner’s vulnerability database ensure it can recognize the latest known vulnerabilities and threats. If your vulnerability scanner doesn’t support these two important features, you may need to invest additional time and effort into time-consuming manual operations that achieve the same results.

Step 6. Integration with Other Security Measures

Security leaders must pay close attention to what happens after a vulnerability scan detects an outdated software patch or misconfiguration. Alerting security teams to the danger represented by these weaknesses is only the first step towards actually resolving them, and many scanning tools offer comprehensive integrations for launching remediation actions.

Remediation integrations are valuable because they allow security teams to quickly address vulnerabilities immediately upon discovering them. The alternative is creating a list of weaknesses and having the team manually go through them, which takes time and distracts from higher-impact security tasks.

Another useful integration involves large-scale security posture analytics. If your vulnerability assessment includes analysis and management tools for addressing observable patterns in your network vulnerability scans, it will be much easier to dedicate resources to the appropriate security-enhancing initiatives.

Choosing a Network Vulnerability Scanning Solution

There are two major categories of features that network vulnerability scanning tools must offer in order to provide best-in-class coverage against sophisticated threats. Keep these aspects in mind when reviewing your options for deploying vulnerability scans in your security workflow.

Important Considerations

  • Comprehensive Vulnerability Database. Access to an extensive CVE database is vital. Many of these are open-source and available to the general public, but the sheer number of CVE records can drag down performance. The best vulnerability management tools have highly optimized APIs capable of processing these records quickly.
  • Customizability and Templates. Tailoring scans to specific needs and environments is important for every organization, but it takes on special significance for organizations seeking to demonstrate regulatory compliance. That’s because the outcome of compliance assessments and audits will depend on the quality of data included in your reports.
  • False Positive Management. All vulnerability scanners are susceptible to displaying false positives, but some manage these events better than others. This is especially important in misconfiguration cases, because it can cause security teams to mistakenly misconfigure security tools that were configured correctly in the first place.

Business Essentials

  • Support for Various Platforms. Your vulnerability scan must ingest data from multiple operating systems like Windows, Linux, and a variety of cloud platforms. If any of these systems are not compatible with the scanning process, you may end up with unstable performance or unreliable data.
  • Reporting and Analytics. Detailed reports and analytics help you establish a clear security posture assessment. Your vulnerability management tool must provide clear reports that are easy for non-technical stakeholders to understand. This will help you make the case for necessary security investments in the future.
  • Scalability and Flexibility. These solutions must scale with the growth of your organization’s IT infrastructure. Pay attention to the usage and payment model each vulnerability scanning vendor uses. Some of them may be better suited to small, growing organizations while others are more appropriate for large enterprises and government agencies.

Top 5 Network Vulnerability Scanning Providers

1. AlgoSec

AlgoSec is a network security platform that helps organizations identify vulnerabilities and orchestrate network security policies in response. It includes comprehensive features for managing firewalls routers, and other security device configurations, and enables teams to proactively scan for new vulnerabilities on their network.

AlgoSec reports on misconfigurations and vulnerabilities, and can show how simulated changes to IT infrastructure impact the organization’s security posture. It provides in-depth visibility and control over multi-cloud and on-premises environments.

Key features:

  • Comprehensive network mapping. AlgoSec supports automatic network asset discovery, giving security teams complete coverage of the hybrid network.
  • In-depth automation. The platform supports automatic security policy updates in response to detected security vulnerabilities, allowing security teams to manage risk proactively.
  • Detailed risk analysis. When AlgoSec detects a vulnerability, it provides complete details and background on the vulnerability itself and the risk it represents.

2. Tenable Nessus

Tenable Nessus is one of the industry’s most reputable names in vulnerability assessment and management. It is widely used to identify and fix vulnerabilities including software flaws, missing security patches, and misconfigurations. It supports a wide range of operating systems and applications, making it a flexible tool for many different use cases.

Key features:

  • High-speed discovery. Tenable supports high speed network asset discovery scans through advanced features. Break up scans into easily managed subnetworks and configure ping settings to make the scan faster.
  • Configuration auditing. Security teams can ensure IT assets are compliant with specific compliance-oriented audit policies designed to meet a wide range of assets and standards.
  • Sensitive data discovery. Tenable Nessus can discover sensitive data located on the network and provide clear, actionable steps for protecting that data in compliance with regulatory standards.

3. Rapid7 Nexpose

Nexpose offers real-time monitoring and risk assessment designed for enterprise organizations. As an on-premises vulnerability scanner, the solution is well-suited to the needs of large organizations with significant IT infrastructure deployments. It collects vulnerability information, prioritizes it effectively, and provides guidance on remediating risks.

Key Features:

  • Enterprise-ready on-premises form factor. Rapid7 designed Nexpose to meet the needs of large organizations with constant vulnerability scanning needs.
  • Live monitoring of the attack surface. Organizations can continuously scan their IT environment and prioritize discovered vulnerabilities using more than 50 filters to create asset groups that correspond to known threats.
  • Integration with penetration testing. Rapid7 comes with a wide range of fully supported integrations and provides vulnerability and exploitability context useful for pentest scenarios.

4. Qualys

Qualys is an enterprise cloud security provider that includes vulnerability management in its IT security and compliance platform. It includes features that help security teams understand and manage security risks while automating remediation with intuitive no-code workflows. It integrates well with other enterprise security solutions, but may not be accessible for smaller organizations.

Key features:

  • All-in-one vulnerability management workflow. Qualys covers all of your vulnerability scanning and remediation needs in a single, centralized platform. It conducts asset discovery, detects vulnerabilities, prioritizes findings, and launches responses with deep customization and automation capabilities.
  • Web application scanning. The platform is well-suited to organizations with extensive public-facing web applications outside the network perimeter. It supports container runtime security, including container-as-a-service environments.
  • Complete compliance reporting. Security teams can renew expiring certificates directly through Qualys, making it a comprehensive solution to obtaining and maintaining compliance.

5. OpenVAS (Greenbone Networks)

OpenVAS is an open-source tool that offers a comprehensive scanning to organizations of all sizes. It is available under a General Public License (GPL) agreement, making it a cost-effective option compared to competing proprietary software options. It supports a range of customizable plugins through its open source developer community.

Key Features:

  • Open-source vulnerability scanner. Organizations can use and customize OpenVAS at no charge, giving it a significant advantage for organizations that prioritize cost savings.
  • Customizable plugins. As with many open-source tools, there is a thriving community of developers involved in creating customizable plugins for unique use cases.
  • Supports a wide range of vulnerability tests. The high level of customization offered by OpenVAS allows security teams to run many different kinds of vulnerability tests from a single, centralized interface.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Nmap (Network Mapper): A versatile and free open-source tool, NMAP is popular for network discovery and security auditing. It’s particularly noted for its flexibility in scanning both large networks and single hosts. Nmap is a powerful and popular Linux command-line tool commonly featured in cybersecurity education courses.
  2. Microsoft’s Azure Security Center: Ideal for organizations heavily invested in the Azure cloud platform, this tool provides integrated security monitoring and policy management across hybrid cloud workloads. It unifies many different security features, including vulnerability assessment, proactive threat hunting, and more.
  3. IBM Security QRadar Vulnerability Manager: This is a comprehensive solution that integrates with other IBM QRadar products, providing a full-spectrum view of network vulnerabilities. It’s especially valuable for enterprises that already rely on IBM infrastructure for security workflows.
  4. McAfee Vulnerability Manager: A well-known solution offering robust vulnerability scanning capabilities, with additional features for risk and compliance management. It provides a combination of active and passive monitoring, along with penetration testing and authentication scanning designed to provide maximum protection to sensitive network assets.

Choosing the Right Vulnerability Management Tool

Choosing the right vulnerability management tool requires in-depth knowledge of your organization’s security and IT infrastructure context. You need to select the tool that matches your unique use cases and security requirements while providing the support you need to achieve long-term business goals.

Those goals may change over time, which makes ongoing evaluation of your security tools an even more important strategic asset to keep in your arsenal. Gathering clear and detailed information about your organization’s security posture allows you to flexibility adapt to changes in your IT environment without exposing sensitive assets to additional risk.

AlgoSec provides a wide range of flexible options for vulnerability scanning, policy change management, and proactive configuration simulation. Enhance your organization’s security capabilities by deploying a vulnerability management solution that provides the visibility and flexibility you need to stay on top of a challenging industry.

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