Vulnerability management is the ongoing process of discovering, assessing, prioritizing and remediating software vulnerabilities. Vulnerability management seeks to continually identify vulnerabilities and prioritize remediation efforts to quickly patch security flaws and improve the organization’s security posture. With cybercriminals looking to take advantage of open vulnerabilities, vulnerability management is a proactive process that helps close security gaps in your network before they are utilized for a cyberattack.
To understand the vulnerability management process better, let’s look at a relatable analogy. To ensure that we remain in top health, we go for periodic health check-ups. Such check-ups include various health specific scans such as blood tests, treadmill tests, complete metabolic tests, CT scans etc. Post this step, we consult a general physician doctor who assesses the reports and helps us prioritize what we should focus on first. This leads to the discovery of the current and potentially the future health issues. After we consume prescribed medication, we gradually begin to improve our health.
Think of a vulnerability management process quite akin to the health check-up but for your network and assets. A typical cyber security vulnerability management process has the following stages- Discovery, Prioritization and Response.
Let’s take a deep dive into each of these stages.
Stages of vulnerability management Process
The first step towards vulnerability management is knowing “what” to scan which starts by gaining enterprise-wide visibility into all the assets of your organization. Comprehensive and accurate asset inventory is a core capability that is required to discover all potential vulnerabilities. If your vulnerability management system only “sees” a few types of assets, your coverage is insufficient. Consider an automated asset discovery and inventory solution that identifies all types of assets and inventories them, empowering you to manage risk across the entire attack surface.
An automated system powered by specialized AI/ML can solve the problem of unifying asset and vulnerability information across your entire enterprise—regardless of the number of tools or repositories that you might have. Automation allows your team to collect, de-duplicate, correlate and analyze asset data from multiple repositories in real-time—greatly reducing the time to inventory. Using automation, data can be continuously ingested from your various security tools to provide a more accurate, real-time view of your assets and vulnerabilities. Armed with this information, your security team is better equipped to tackle your organization’s vulnerabilities in the most efficient manner and increase the effectiveness of your vulnerability management efforts.
With hundreds or thousands of vulnerabilities, it’s important to effectively prioritize remediation to ensure your security team isn’t racing to address issues that pose little or no real risk to your business-critical assets. Since not every vulnerability presents the same security risk to operating systems, it’s critical to get context around each vulnerability and the enterprise asset that it affects.
To effectively prioritize the remediation of vulnerabilities, organizations need to adopt a risk-based prioritization approach, which requires a vulnerability management platform that understands and learns your business context, considers the value of each asset to your business and takes into account vulnerabilities, active threats, exposure due to software usage and any mitigating controls already implemented in your enterprise to calculated risk. With this approach, your organization can first focus on actions that are critical and make smarter decisions to reduce your risk, both strategically and tactically.
After you’ve identified the vulnerabilities that exist across your systems, it’s important to evaluate the risks they pose and determine how to effectively manage them. There are several ways to treat vulnerabilities: remediation (fully fixing or patching a vulnerability), mitigation (lessening the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited), or taking no action (accepting the risk posed by that vulnerability). A risk-based vulnerability management tool will analyze different remediation scenarios and the related risk reduction results to recommend the best remediation option for your security team, such as highly tuned patch instructions. It can also help align remediation efforts to business priorities by identifying the owners of risk issues and assigning them remediation tasks. With this approach, security leaders have processes that enable prioritization and can build an effective strategy so they can quickly address security issues and protect their organization.
What is vulnerability scanning?
Vulnerability scanning is the process of identifying security weaknesses and flaws in systems and software running on them. This is an integral component of a vulnerability management program, which has one overarching goal – to protect the organization from breaches and the exposure of sensitive data. These programs rely on assessment to gauge security readiness and minimize risk, and vulnerability scanning is a critical tool in the cybersecurity toolbox.
There are two big challenges related to traditional vulnerability assessment – knowing what to scan and knowing when to scan:
- Keeping an up-to-date asset inventory is an essential first step and requires its own set of tools and strategies.
- Making sure that your vulnerability scanning tools cover non-traditional assets such as BYOD devices, IoTs, mobile assets, and cloud services is essential.
- In a world where cyber threats can come from any direction and at any time, the ability to configure and perform continuous monitoring and scanning (as opposed to monthly or quarterly vulnerability scans) is key.
How is vulnerability scanning different from penetration testing?
Vulnerability scanning is very often confused with penetration testing but there are some major differences between the two.
- A vulnerability scan is an automated high-level test that looks for potential security vulnerabilities, while a penetration test is an exhaustive examination that includes a live person actually digging into your network’s complexities to exploit the weakness in your systems.
- A vulnerability scan only identifies vulnerabilities, while a penetration tester digs deeper to identify the root cause of the vulnerability that allows access to secure systems or stored sensitive data. The pen tester also looks for business logic vulnerabilities that might be missed by an automatic scanner.
- Vulnerability scans can be instigated manually or on an automated basis, and will complete in as little as several minutes to as long as several hours.
What is a vulnerability database?
A vulnerability database is a platform aimed at collecting, maintaining, and disseminating information about discovered computer security vulnerabilities. The database will customarily describe the identified vulnerability, assess the potential impact on affected systems, and any workarounds or updates to mitigate the issue. A vulnerability database will assign a unique identifier to each vulnerability cataloged such as a number (e.g. 123456) or alphanumeric designation (e.g. VDB-2020-12345). Information in the database can be made available via web pages, exports, or API. Some vulnerability databases are:
NVD – The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) is a database, maintained by NIST, that is fully synchronized with the MITRE CVE list.
CVE – Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) is a list of publicly disclosed vulnerabilities and exposures that is maintained by MITRE.
Vulnerability management best practices
Every new vulnerability introduces a new security risk to an organization. To mitigate these risks and improve your security posture, your security team needs to implement an effective vulnerability management program that can help stop attacks in their tracks.
Vulnerability management best practices include:
- Recognize what you are trying to protect by discovering and inventorying all IT assets including systems, applications, devices, data, business processes, and users.
- Employ an AI-powered platform that continuously monitors all assets and proactively predicts what vulnerabilities are most likely to be exploited.
- Adopt a risk-based vulnerability management approach to your security measures so you can prioritize vulnerabilities based on their level of threat to your organization.
- Develop a response strategy so your security team can determine how to effectively manage vulnerabilities using the best remediation approach.
Proving the value of your vulnerability management program
Metrics and modern cybersecurity are intrinsically linked. CISOs use metrics to determine priorities, inform decisions, support investments, track progress, maintain accountability and prove the value of implemented cybersecurity programs. The challenge is that cybersecurity covers a broad range of areas, and each area has specific type of data, and different metrics.
Top 10 Cybersecurity Posture Metrics Every CISO Should Use: A CISO Executive Guide
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a vulnerability management process?
Vulnerability management is not just about scanning your networks for threats and patching security gaps. A holistic approach is needed in order to make informed decisions about which vulnerabilities to address first and how to properly mitigate them. A typical vulnerability management process has the following steps:
- Gaining full visibility of all enterprise assets
- Identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities
- Remediating vulnerabilities in a timely manner
- What are the steps of vulnerability management?
For most organizations, management of their expanding attack surface is no longer a human-scale problem. With cyber threats becoming more common, security teams need vulnerability management processes and solutions that can monitor and analyze their attack surface, automatically, continuously and in real-time. With a more automated approach to cybersecurity posture management, vulnerabilities can be identified faster and mitigated before they are exploited by cybercriminals.
Having a comprehensive vulnerability management program that take the following steps:
- Discover the assets.
- Prioritize the vulnerabilities.
- Respond to the vulnerabilities.