What Is A Network Security Assessment

Creating a security assessment document can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned network engineer. This is because there are so many variables to consider when performing an inspection of a company’s network infrastructure. 

A Network Security Assessment is an audit designed to find vulnerabilities at risk of being compromised in your network.

For example, there are several different types of security assessments from which one may choose. The best choice for your particular needs will depend on several factors, including time constraints, level of detail required, and management expectations, among other things. In this article, we’re going to explore various aspects that should be taken into consideration before starting your next security assessment project.

Network Security Assessments

Network security assessments are an excellent way for your IT team to gain insight into the overall architecture and security of your environment and future risks that may be present within it. It is important to remember that the more time you invest in preparing for a particular test, the more effective, it will be. As with any project, your team will incur costs. However, what is essential is that you choose an assessment type that best meets your company’s requirements.

Types Of Network Security Assessments

There are three main types of network security assessments – vulnerability audits, penetration tests, and red team exercises. These types relate directly to how much control the security assessor has over your network.

Vulnerability Audits

Vulnerability audits focus on determining and documenting the vulnerabilities of a particular system and providing suggested remedies for them. This type of assessment is excellent for documenting current vulnerability levels across your entire infrastructure. However, it does not test whether or not an unauthorized party can exploit these vulnerabilities – that’s where penetration testing comes in.

Penetration Tests

Penetration tests (pen tests) mimic real-world attacks against the target environment by an authorized third-party assailant (i.e., a security consultant). They are specifically designed to determine which attacks will likely succeed if attempted against the target infrastructure and what damage they would cause if successful. Penetration tests typically focus on one particular system or piece of hardware (i.e., server, switch, router).

Red Team Exercise

The final type of network security assessment is the red team exercise. While both penetration tests and red team assessments mimic real-world attacks, the primary difference between them is who performs the attack – i.e., an authorized third-party assailant vs. an unauthorized intruder. Red team exercises typically involve a small group of people with various skill sets, including system administrators, programmers, and systems engineers. 

This allows for numerous different viewpoints to be brought into play during testing. Though penetration tests are typically more focused in scope, they have one distinct advantage over red team exercises – the “authorized” nature of the testers provides management with a prominent report on where their network’s vulnerabilities lie and what needs to be done to fix them.

Red team assessments are typically more comprehensive in scope than penetration tests because they mimic the same kinds of attacks that unauthorized third parties might have access to. Red team exercises can be used to test your entire infrastructure or just one piece of hardware (i.e., server, router, etc.) On the other hand, red team exercises give management an accurate view of how their network would hold up against a real-world attack.

What Is The Best Type Of Network Security Assessment?

The best option for your particular needs will depend on several factors including,

  1. Time constraints
  2. Level of detail required
  3. Management expectations, among other things. 

If you have very little time to prepare for your assessment (a couple of days), go with vulnerability audits. This will provide you with enough information regarding what vulnerabilities exist within your infrastructure. 

If you have plenty of time to prepare for your assessment (i.e., several months), go with penetration tests. This will provide management with a clear picture of how their network would hold up against real-world attacks. 

However, if an unauthorized third party has breached the perimeter of your infrastructure already, or you just want to know for sure that your systems are secure, then go with red team assessments. This will provide management with the most accurate view of what vulnerabilities still exist within your infrastructure.


It is important to remember that all three types of assessments should be run at least once every year because as soon as you fix a vulnerability on your network, an unauthorized third party will most likely find it and exploit it.

Penetration testing and red team exercises are usually more involved than vulnerability audits. This is because they involve attempting to break into the environment and assess the damage done if successful. However, even vulnerability audits require some level of coordination with management – this is especially true when it comes to determining what systems or devices need to be assessed during these types of exercises.

What Are The Advantages Of Network Security Assessments?

  • Performing a network security assessment allows your IT professionals to determine the overall security state of your infrastructure. 
  • Furthermore, because each type has its advantages and disadvantages, you can choose which one best meets your requirements – whether time constraints or management expectations.
  • Finally, because an authorized third-party assailant performs penetration tests, they provide management with a clear picture of exactly where their network’s vulnerabilities lie. 
  • This helps reduce the likelihood of “surprises” during testing that could cause severe consequences for internal staff and clients/customers alike.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Network Security Assessments?

  • Network security assessments require a great deal of time and resources to complete – both from the security consultant performing the assessment as well as end-users. 
  • Furthermore, they can be costly (especially pentests). This is especially true when the security assessment requires on-site staff to be present during testing.
  • Lastly, it can often be difficult for management to determine precisely how long a particular penetration test will take to complete. This means planning for this type of project is even more important than other types of assessments.


This document has explored the benefits of performing a security assessment of a company’s network infrastructure. We have also described some of the different types of assessments that can be conducted and which type is most appropriate for your particular needs. In the next part of this series, we will discuss how one would lead a security assessment project from start to finish.

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