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authenticated security scan

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

An authenticated security scan is vulnerability testing performed as a logged-in (authenticated) user. The method is also known as logged-in scanning.

Authenticated scans determine how secure a network is from an inside vantage point. The method finds many vulnerabilities that cannot be detected through an unauthenticated scan. Visibility into those security holes helps administrators identify what needs to be done to ensure that should an attacker gain access to the network or a user account, important accounts and data will be protected. The information yielded by authenticated scans also helps ensure that insider threats are limited in the damage they can do.

Authenticated scans take place either from a computer that is logged into the network normally, with extra software installed for the task, or from a dedicated machine connected to the network and given login credentials. It takes a more specialized administrator for the scan, because manual hacking may be required to know whether a given area is vulnerable.

Despite its benefits, authenticated scanning is not so simple. Here are some of the downsides to authenticated testing, as compared to unauthenticated scanning:

  1. It's more difficult and often requires more advanced manual analysis and hacking techniques.
  2. It requires more testing tools.
  3. It can easily double or triple the amount of time it takes to test all key areas for vulnerabilities.
  4. It often requires getting other people (admins, developers and so on) involved to set up test accounts and monitor/manage the systems.
  5. You can typically exploit more vulnerabilities, but at the same time that can put data integrity at risk, depending on the systems you're testing and the tools you're using.
  6. Given that it can use up more system resources (again, depending on the systems and tools involved), it may require certain time constraints so that testing is only done during off hours.
This was last updated in July 2015

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