Managing security requires an organization to know all of its IT assets. To discover vulnerabilities across devices, software, and hardware, organizations need to know what assets they have. In dynamic hybrid and multi-cloud environments, identifying and cataloging all assets can be challenging. The first step to securing a company’s technology stack lies in understanding what IT asset discovery is and how to use it for more robust security.

What is IT Asset Discovery?

IT asset discovery is the process of using automation to identify, catalog, and monitor IT assets like software and hardware. While asset discovery is critical to security, it is also an important component of most compliance mandates under the broader heading of IT Asset Management (ITAM).

For example, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) includes IT asset discovery under the Identify Asset Management (ID.AM) category, specifying:

  • AM-1: Physical devices and systems within the organization are inventoried
  • AM-2: Software platforms and applications within the organization are inventoried
  • AM-4: External information systems are cataloged

What are examples of IT assets?

IT assets include devices, installed software, and cloud resources.

Hardware

Hardware assets include various devices that an organization uses as part of its daily business. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Laptops
  • Servers
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices like printers

As more types of hardware connect to networks, the definition of hardware expands. For example, IoT devices can include printers but also connected refrigerators or voice enabled assistants.

Software

Software assets are agents installed on a device. Software includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Authorized software
  • Unauthorized software
  • Software libraries, like .dll and .ocx
  • Scripts like .ps1, .py and executable files

Cloud

Cloud assets are all the cloud-based IT assets that an organization stores or uses, including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications.

Some examples of cloud assets include:

  • Virtualized networking devices
  • Virtual servers like VMware, Hyper-V, and EC2 instances
  • Containers
  • Code repositories
  • Storage buckets
  • Databases-as-a-Service (DBaaS)

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What are the benefits of IT asset discovery?

When organizations engage in IT asset discovery, they gain several business benefits.

Security

A complete asset catalog ensures that the organization knows all of its assets. The discovery process provides visibility into unmanaged assets, like smartphones, that can be used as attack vectors. By identifying and cataloging these assets, organizations eliminate the blind spots that can lead to data breaches because they monitor all assets for potential vulnerabilities.

Single Source of Information

The purpose of asset discovery is to create a complete asset catalog. Manual processes or siloed databases can lead to incomplete asset catalogs. With IT asset discovery, organizations can create a complete list of all assets and store it in a single location. This way, they have a regularly updated list that acts as the single source of information across the IT and security teams.

Network Architecture

Since discovery tools scan networks for newly detected assets, they also give organizations a way to understand their network architectures. Often, the IT asset discovery process can provide additional insight into:

  • Number of physical and virtual devices
  • Resource usage
  • Potential malware risks
  • Connections between assets that can lead to risk

Cost Optimization

As organizations make decisions about IT needs and budgets, discovery gives them a better understanding of current IT assets. For example, IT asset discovery and tracking offers information about:

  • License compliance
  • Unused licenses
  • Newly added software
  • Future needs based on current usage

Visibility

Since most IT asset discovery tools use visualizations, organizations can more quickly review the information. The tools show the relationships between assets so that organizations can gain visibility into their network architecture, taking context and connections into account. This helps them understand risk better and prioritize remediation activities more effectively.

How does asset discovery work?

IT asset discovery uses network scanners to detect new network connections. Traditionally, the organization installs the application on a device or server. Then, the application scans the device or server for any new hardware or software. Additionally, these scans can review the asset or network for vulnerabilities and abnormal activity.

This gives organizations real-time visibility into the devices and software active on their networks. Then, they update the database containing the list of assets.

How to choose an IT asset discovery solution

When choosing a solution, organizations need to take into account their currently known assets. However, they also need to consider whether a solution will be able to detect unknown assets as well.

Ability to continuously update

While traditional IT assets stored on-premises may be long-term connections to a network, the cloud’s dynamic nature changes how organizations identify assets. In particular, discovering and inventorying cloud assets is challenging because they may be short-lived. Organizations need to ensure that their IT asset discovery solution continuously updates so that they have a complete asset catalog. Otherwise, they may end up with unmanaged assets that can lead to a data breach.

Onboard rapidly

For rapid return on investment, organizations need a solution that allows them to quickly define networks in a traditional infrastructure while also integrating with cloud platforms. As an organization looks for a solution that meets its needs, it needs to consider how long deployment will take.

Provide context

Asset discovery means identifying all assets. Without context, this is just a list which offers little insight into risk. Organizations should look for a solution that provides visibility into the relationships between network assets, configurations, security incidents, and vulnerabilities.

Provide visualizations

With IT asset discovery solutions, organizations should look for ones that offer easy-to-read graphics that show all assets and their connections across networks. Without these, the organization will struggle to prioritize remediation activities appropriately.

Alert Logic: IT asset discovery to simplify inventory management

Alert Logic’s network discovery scanner continuously gathers information about the quantity, location, and condition of assets across the organization’s cloud, on-premises, or hybrid environments.

With our rapid deployment, organizations can start making informed decisions around asset protection across on-premises and cloud locations. We provide visualizations that incorporate context so that customers can better prioritize their remediation activities. With Alert Logic, organizations can visualize assets, configurations, and meta-data with in-context recommendations for how they relate to potential cloud platform security risks.

Our scalable solution provides asset visibility, vulnerability assessment, threat detection and response, and a web application firewall to provide the most comprehensive Managed Detection and Response (MDR) coverage that can be right-sized for the protection you need.

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Rod Mercado
About the Author
Rod Mercado
Rod Mercado is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Alert Logic where he drives strategy and enables sales and partner teams around Managed Detection and Response (MDR). In his 20-year career in the IT industry, he has held roles at Forcepoint, Dell Technologies, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. Based in Austin, Texas, Rod is passionate about technology and communicating Alert Logic’s value to current and prospective customers.

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