Automating Vulnerability Management

What is automated vulnerability management?

Automated vulnerability management is the process of continuously identifying, evaluating, dispatching, remediating and verifying security issues with little or no human supervision.

This automation is in contrast with traditional vulnerability management where security teams set up scans, parse outputs of scans and separate out scan results into per-owner “action required” lists. Prioritizing scan results requires another tool or may be built in. Work is then dispatched to owners who then have to figure out the appropriate fix by doing research.

While vulnerability management isn’t a new concept for many organizations, it has become clear that traditional vulnerability solutions do not provide the protection that organizations need in order to keep pace with today’s diverse and growing threat environment.

The answer to these woes is automated vulnerability management.

Challenges of traditional vulnerability management

There are several challenges with traditional vulnerability management:

The use of manual methods

Traditional vulnerability management methods require many manual steps which can put an organization like yours at risk. Relying on manual triage to detect and manage vulnerabilities slows down response time and can lead to outdated observations about your attack surface, instead of real-time insights. Requiring high levels of human intervention can also result in higher false positives, errors and inaccuracies.

Multiple security tools

With an evolving attack surface, organizations might ask themselves if they have enough protection to cover it all. This can lead security teams to throw money at solutions that don’t actually solve any problems. Moreover, while a big collection of tools might make it feel like you have a better handle on protecting your organization, in reality it might be creating more chaos. Wasting time managing new tools and hopping between multiple solutions inhibits your security team’s ability to efficiently defend against attacks.

Incomplete asset inventory

Organizations today have thousands of assets, including devices, cloud assets, applications, databases, third-party components and software, creating a massive attack surface susceptible to compromise via a variety of attack vectors. Archaic methods of asset inventory that employ spreadsheets and manual discovery do not provide an accurate picture of your enterprise assets. For example, mission critical assets may not be fully protected because they have not been identified or tagged properly. If they are not configured correctly in your cybersecurity tools and workflows, your cyber risk increases.

Lack of real-time coverage

A major issue with traditional vulnerability management is coverage. Traditional vulnerability tools understand and monitor very little of the enterprise attack surface because they aren’t capable of analyzing it inside-out and outside-in in real-time.

A second major issue is outdated vulnerability data. Traditional vulnerability assessment tools are typically configured to perform periodic (often monthly) vulnerability scans. When a vulnerability process is not continuous, an organization’s understanding of its risk is several days or weeks out-of-date, making it challenging to effectively identify vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

Improper prioritization of vulnerabilities

Traditional vulnerability management makes it challenging for organizations to properly prioritize vulnerabilities and identify the critical security issues to be fixed first. Even if vulnerabilities have been identified by automated systems, the traditional prioritization and patching process is mostly-manual, which can lead to human-error, inconsistencies and slower dispatch and response times.

With new vulnerabilities constantly emerging and network environments changing every day, prioritizing threats quickly and correctly requires continuous analysis that is only feasible with automated solutions. For example, a risk-based vulnerability management solution can quickly ingest and analyze mountains of vulnerability data and then prioritize vulnerabilities based on numerous factors, such as asset business criticality, security control information, threat level and exposure in addition to traditional severity scores. Risk-based vulnerability management allows for better decision making when it comes to tackling risks based on the likelihood and impact of a breach in your organization.

Figuring out the right action to take

Traditional vulnerability management does not provide the comprehensiveness or details needed to effectively manage different types of environments or complex patching requirements.

The correct remediation process is not always straightforward and can take different forms. In some cases, fixing a vulnerability requires deploying a patch, updating third-party applications, or something else. You might also be running applications that require periodic updates or are only compatible with older versions of the software.

Why automate vulnerability management?

Automated vulnerability management is necessary in today’s day and age due to the task becoming larger than a human-scale problem. Infrastructure and networks have quickly grown in size and complexity, while the number of attacks have grown even more quickly. Without automation, it is impossible to accurately identify assets, discover new vulnerabilities, prioritize threats or dispatch and remediate vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

Automated vulnerability management is one of the most effective ways to help increasingly scarce security experts work productively. With new vulnerabilities constantly emerging, it’s important for organizations to continuously discover and remediate any security gaps to stay ahead of adversaries. With automated vulnerability management, the human element is removed from all or some of the vulnerability management process. Automation allows for organizations to manage their risk posture with greater accuracy and speed.

For example, with automation, you can create a complete real-time inventory of your assets and prioritize vulnerabilities using in-depth data analysis of risk, before humans need to get involved. As a result, the security team won’t waste time fixing issues that pose little threat to your network.

Automated vulnerability management also enhances your understanding of your attack surface. Unlike manual vulnerability management methods, an automated solution continuously monitors the network for threats and provides you with fixes that can be deployed instantly. Patching efforts can be automated in order to simplify the process of keeping systems and applications up-to-date. As a result, your organization is less vulnerable to an attack.

Lastly, with an automated vulnerability management solution, you can run real-time reports that help you understand your vulnerability management performance. With real-time reporting, your decision-making is based on up-to-date and accurate information instead of weeks-old stale information. You can also track trends and see how your risk changes over time and whether your security efforts are working so you can make changes to improve your security posture.

Traditional vulnerability management vs. Automated vulnerability management
Traditional vulnerability management vs. Automated vulnerability management

Key elements of automated vulnerability management

The key elements of an automated vulnerability management solution include:

A real-time (automated) asset inventory system

Identifies what you are trying to protect, catalogs asset attributes and provides you with continuous and real-time monitoring of changes to your assets.

Data from internal and external data sources

Ingests data from internal and external sources to assess your security posture, level of risk and remediation progress.

Continuous evaluation of asset state and software versions for open vulnerabilities

Provides continuous monitoring for vulnerabilities and available software updates and alerts you when assets are at risk.

Prioritization based on risk

Prioritizes vulnerabilities from a risk-driven perspective so you can understand what are the threats that pose the greatest risk to your environment. Prioritization is based on both the vulnerability (severity, threat level) and the underlying asset (business criticality, exposure and security controls).

Automated remediation workflows

Simplifies remediation workflows by providing risk management teams detailed information about which vulnerability to prioritize and how to fix it.

Automated patch management and verification

Streamlines patching efforts by allowing security teams to tackle high volumes of vulnerabilities efficiently as well as security emergencies by continuously updating software patch status and providing management reports.

Benefits of automated vulnerability management

Automated vulnerability management provides an organization with the following benefits:

  • Automatic discovery, visibility and inventorying of all IT assets – managed and unmanaged, third party, fixed and mobile, on-prem and cloud.
  • Accurate identification of asset vulnerabilities as they emerge, so you know which security weaknesses put your organization most at risk.
  • Prioritization of security actions based on a comprehensive assessment of business risk.
  • Prescriptive fixes that address security issues in a manner integrated with the enterprise workflow.

Faster cycle times across remediation and risk management, reducing mean time to patch (MTTP) and mean open vulnerability age (MOVA).

Automated vulnerability management best practices 

Automated vulnerability management solutions require involvement from the security team and foundational processes to ensure the organization’s risk is reduced.

Best practices to set up and use an automated vulnerability management solution are:

  • Ingest data from IT and cybersecurity tools to create a unified view of all your assets.
  • Map your assets to business and risk owners to create role-specific dashboards and actions
  • Enrich assets with additional business context and review business criticality tags to improve the accuracy of security decisions.
  • Manually adjust any automated breach impact calculations based on additional knowledge you may have about asset business criticality
  • Identify and document the best remediation workflows for different environments and vulnerabilities.
  • Test patches before deployment to ensure they won’t put critical systems at risk or make them unstable.
  • Create reports mapping your organization’s risk posture and remediation efforts to how your business is structured (lines of business, geographies, business owners, work sites, security and IT ownership, etc.).

Automated Vulnerability Management with Balbix

Balbix’s risk-based vulnerability management (RBVM) and automation capabilities enable comprehensive risk assessments by correlating data across all your tools. New vulnerabilities are identified faster, prioritized better and remediated or mitigated more easily due to better context.

Vulnerability Management Automation
Balbix risk-based vulnerability management (RBVM) helps automate your cybersecurity posture

With Balbix, you gain accurate and continuous visibility about vulnerabilities including issues beyond CVEs and misconfigurations. New vulnerabilities are identified within minutes of being announced and your vulnerable assets are automatically tagged.

Your risk model, workflows and dashboards are continuously updated as additional asset and vulnerability details emerge. Vulnerabilities are prioritized using asset-level data about vulnerabilities, threats, exposure, security controls and business criticality (measured in dollars). For each issue, responsible owners for the corresponding assets are identified and then prioritized tickets containing all relevant context are generated and assigned to these owners. Progress is closely tracked and fed back to relevant stakeholders.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is automated vulnerability management?

Automated vulnerability management continuously identifies, evaluates, dispatches,  remediates and verifies security issues with little or no human supervision. With automation, repetitive and time-consuming tasks are taken out of the hands of security teams to help accelerate vulnerability management processes like asset inventory, threat detection, vulnerability prioritization, and patch management.

Why automate vulnerability management?

As Infrastructures and networks are growing in size and the attack surface becomes more complex, analyzing and improving enterprise cyber security posture is no longer a human-scale problem. With automated vulnerability management, security tools and software can handle risk management processes more effectively and efficiently by helping organizations inventory all of its IT assets, understand its security weaknesses, prioritize vulnerabilities and remediate security gaps without much human intervention.

What are the benefits of automated vulnerability mananement?

Automated vulnerability management benefits an organization by:

  • Discovering and inventorying all of its assets.
  • Identifying weaknesses in its environment.
  • Providing insights into degrees of risk from each vulnerability.
  • Determining the likelihood and impact of an asset being breached.
  • Recommending ways to effectively mitigate vulnerabilities.
What are the automated vulnerability management best practices?

Best practices to set up and use an automated vulnerability management solution are:

  • Ingest data from IT and cybersecurity tools to create a unified view of all your assets.
  • Map your assets to business and risk owners to create role-specific dashboards and actions
  • Enrich assets with additional business context and review business criticality tags to improve the accuracy of security decisions.
  • Manually adjust any automated breach impact calculations based on additional knowledge you may have about asset business criticality
  • Identify and document the best remediation workflows for different environments and vulnerabilities.
  • Test patches before deployment to ensure they won’t put critical systems at risk or make them unstable.
  • Create reports mapping your organization’s risk posture and remediation efforts to how your business is structured (lines of business, geographies, business owners, work sites, security and IT ownership, etc.).

Recommended Resources

Blog
Fiddling While Rome Burns: The Danger of Legacy Risk-Based Vulnerability Management
EBook
Risk-Based Vulnerability Management: A CISO Executive Guide
Video
Using Automation to Kick Your Cybersecurity Program Into High Gear