What is Vulnerability Management?

By Digital Defense Inc.

Vulnerability management is the comprehensive process of identifying, evaluating, classifying, remediating, and reporting security vulnerabilities of an IT infrastructure, but does everyone need it?

In truth, anyone with assets connected to the internet can benefit from a vulnerability management program. Various industries are even making it a requirement to be compliant with their regulations. 

Unpatched vulnerabilities can potentially cause a company to lose data and lose face.

Like most forms of maintenance, vulnerability management is a continuous process. An efficient vulnerability management system combines a team of trained experts and modern technology to detect security risks and minimize the attack surface proactively. The latter consists of multiple exposure points in your network that attackers can exploit.

In the past, an attack surface only consisted of traditional IT assets like networks and servers, but today’s version is vast and ever-growing, including:

  • Mobile devices (desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets)
  • Cloud infrastructures
  • Virtual machines
  • Containers
  • IoT devices
  • Web-apps

All of these assets can house a potential vulnerability that needs proper management.

 

What is Considered a Vulnerability?

Anything a threat can use to gain unauthorized access or control over one of your IT assets is a vulnerability.

Vulnerabilities can be intangible, like incorrect software and OS configurations or faulty pieces of code in a computing asset. These issues can cause crashing or produce responses not designed by the programmer. 

Some vulnerabilities exist in the physical environment, such as:

  • Communication ports that give the user access to network assets
  • Exploits for gaining privileged access to a given software application or OS (like gaining account passwords)
  • Ports that allow attackers to infect operating systems with malware manually

Vulnerability management involves covering every potential risk, starting with the least secure article. Otherwise, hackers can gain unauthorized access to company information or perform unauthorized actions that can negatively affect your organization.

 

How are Vulnerabilities Defined?

While everyone, from software vendors to company security teams, has their own definition, it’s important to recognize the set standards from recognized institutions. In fact, simply knowing the “official” vulnerability management definition can make it easier to follow industry regulations.

One of the most well-known plans is the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) introduced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

Here’s a simplified breakdown of its components:

  • Common Vulnerabilities or Exposures: Specific vulnerabilities that can leave the system open to threats.
  • Common Configuration Enumeration: A record of every issue in a system’s security configuration that analysts can use to develop better configuration protocols.
  • Common Platform Enumeration: A standardized process of identifying and describing IT resources like applications, physical devices, and operating systems in an environment. Analysts can use this source of information to describe what asset the first two components can apply to.
  • Common Vulnerability Scoring System: Assigns “scores” to a vulnerability that represents their severity. Analysts can use this process to prioritize their resources and solutions to the most dominant threat.

To further hone your vulnerability management plans, consider checking other sources of formal definitions and security baselines like those shared by the Center for Internet Security or the National Vulnerability Database.

 

Why is Vulnerability Management Important?

Protection Against Advanced Attacks

As advanced threats continue to rise, many attackers will actively search for new vulnerabilities and exploits in your organization. Vulnerabilities create an opportunity for hackers to enter and tamper with one’s network successfully, and these attacks are quite common. 

One recent survey from Forrester Global shows that almost half of the studied organizations have experienced a breach in the past year. What’s more, Risked Based Security disclosed over 22,316 new vulnerabilities in 2019, and over a third of them had an available exploit.

These reports further cement the importance of vulnerability management in a company’s security strategies. Even the Center for Internet Security has recently published its top security controls that emphasized vulnerability management.

Reminder for Patches and Updates

Unfortunately, all it takes is one single weakness for attackers to slip in, steal data, or tamper with the system. This potential risk is why both software and hardware vendors continuously check for vulnerabilities and bugs in their platforms and push out the needed patches and updates.

Without a vulnerability management program, your workforce might forget to update the system. For this reason, some companies may use a management tool to streamline and automate the maintenance process.

Meeting Industry Regulations

Almost every industry has regulations that require companies to have an effective management process that can manage their hardware and software systems. Think of these regulations as an excellent motivation to create a strategy for your organization and defend against potential threats.

By keeping compliant with your industry’s regulations, it’s also easier to provide due diligence in an audit and avoid significant fines from non-compliance.

 

The Vulnerability Management Process

Discover

The vulnerability management process always begins by looking for security flaws in your system. Here are some of the most common methods to use:

Vulnerability Scans

Vulnerability scanners can identify new issues in a number of systems that run on a network. This includes virtual and physical servers, devices like desktops and laptops, databases, and firewalls. 

After identifying a system, an organization may use different tools to probe every relevant attribute like:

  • System updates
  • System configurations
  • Operating systems
  • Installed programs
  • User accounts
  • Open ports
  • File structures

With more information about the system, it’s easier to locate any vulnerabilities. Analysts can hasten the process by using scanners that already contain a list of known vulnerabilities.

These scans, when configured properly, are a crucial component of any vulnerability management solution. It’s also a good practice for companies with limited network bandwidth during their peak hours to schedule their scans to run on off-hours.

Adaptive Scans

Sometimes, scanning certain systems isn’t an option because the sub-processes can cause the system to behave erratically or become unstable. The only options are to exclude these systems from your vulnerability scans or fine-tune the scans to be less disruptive. This is where adaptive scanning comes into play.

An adaptive scan takes a more streamlined approach to the vulnerability management process and automatically molds itself to the changes made in a network. For instance, a new system might connect to a specific network for the first time, and an adaptive scan will specifically scan that system instead of going through the whole network.

Endpoint Agents

Scanners aren’t the only method of gathering data for your vulnerability management program. Endpoint agents let vulnerability management solutions automatically collect vulnerability data without the need to perform network scans. This process helps your environment to maintain updated data, even with a more remote workforce.

An organization can use the data gathered from this vulnerability management solution to create reports, dashboards, and metrics to improve many processes.

Prioritize

After identifying vulnerabilities, each one needs a thorough evaluation of the potential risks they pose. This process allows companies to create a defined risk management strategy, which is a necessity, especially if you encounter too many vulnerabilities. 

Most organizations use standardized risk ratings or scores like the Common Vulnerability Scoring System we mentioned earlier.

The scoring helps with vulnerability management by giving insight on which threats to focus on first in their ticketing systems. However, outside of these scores, it’s also critical for analysts to account for other factors. 

Here are some questions that can help create a more accurate scoring for every vulnerability:

  • Is the vulnerability a false positive?
  • Can attackers access this network vulnerability from the internet?
  • Are there any security vulnerabilities that can further complicate the issue in question?
  • How long has this vulnerability existed in your system?
  • Is it difficult to exploit or breach this vulnerability?
  • How will the vulnerability impact your organization if attackers breach it?
  • What amount of time and resources will it take to fix it?

Assess

With every risk ranked for its criticality and sensitivity, the vulnerability management process continues by identifying all data and applications that the risks can affect. 

This analysis is best accomplished in collaboration with IT and other departments of your company.

Through extensive discussions, your teams might discover that a system or application is more (or less) crucial than once assumed. For instance, emails may be important for one department’s environment, but others might rely more on in-house messaging.

The vulnerability assessment phase also includes creating risk baselines that can serve as a point of reference. Companies can compare these baselines to the current environment after successfully remediating or eliminating a vulnerability. 

By obtaining a benchmark of the type and scale of potential hazards, you can eliminate every known risk that involves asset classification and asset criticality.

Remediate

Depending on the risk or asset in question, remediation can be as straightforward as applying a free software update or as complex (and expensive) as replacing dozens of physical servers. 

With that said, not every vulnerability needs fixing. For instance, your vulnerability scanner might have identified some risks in your Adobe Flash Player on certain computers, but the application is already disabled, and your workforce can’t access them.

Vulnerability management solutions exist to provide the best course of action for fixing vulnerabilities. In some cases, automated vulnerability management processes (like management tools) don’t recommend the most optimal method of remediation. So it’s important for security teams, system administrators, and company owners to steer their security program in the right direction.

Verify

After conducting remediation activities for vulnerabilities that do require attention, it’s good practice to run additional scans and conduct IT reports to ensure that the risk is fully resolved.

As with any tool used in vulnerability management programs, scanners aren’t infallible. While the detection rate of false-positives is usually low, they still can exist, so always be on guard. 

Using specific techniques like penetration testing, firewall logging, and network scanning can also help remove false positives by giving analysts additional information to utilize.

The results of verification can be a real eye-opener, especially if your security program hasn’t conducted one in awhile. After even a few months, some system configurations might seem secure or risky but are actually the opposite. 

Report

As vulnerability assessment and management becomes a routine practice, the generated reports produce useful information for improving your organization’s security posture. With better insight comes enhanced speed, efficiency, and budgeting in the vulnerability management program.

Many vulnerability management systems come with export features that allow the transferring of data from vulnerability scanners. Your security team will be able to identify important trends faster to potentially decrease remediation time and speed up vulnerability detection for future scans.

Consistent reporting also helps your organization comply with regulatory requirements and meet your in-house key performance indicators. 

 

Vulnerability Management Solutions

Manual Tracking is Outdated and Inefficient

Almost every organization will have too many vulnerabilities to make manual tracking possible. Imagine a small team tracing multiple vulnerabilities across hundreds of assets in a distributed network. With more businesses making the switch towards a more remote workforce, this endeavor will be even more challenging.

As the number of cyber attackers rises and vulnerabilities become weaker by the day, organizations need to act fast before potentially losing a chunk of their resources from a breached system. 

The answer to this problem? Vulnerability management software.

Vulnerability Management Software is Becoming a Necessity

Thousands of organizations might already be familiar with traditional cybersecurity tools like firewalls and antivirus software. Developers design these tools to manage threats as they occur, making them a reactive measure. By contrast, management tools take the proactive approach when handling a risk.

Vulnerability management tools scan and identify vulnerabilities in a system and recommend the right actions to mitigate potential security breaches. 

When picking the right tools, always choose the ones that are already compatible with your existing systems, so you don’t have to rely on third-party integration. The latter often results in an inefficient and fragmented workflow.

Reaping the Benefits of Modern Tools

Beyond offering potential solutions for remediation, most management tools have several other useful features that can enhance your security posture. 

For instance, a tool might automatically apply small updates, patches, and fixes to remedy some vulnerabilities. Some implements might also categorize each weakness by their threat level, making the process more streamlined for your IT teams.

Lastly, these management tools can also have additional security solutions for enterprise applications like:

  • Automated threat detection and response
  • Compliance reporting and auditing
  • Real-time analysis of security alerts
  • Employee access management
  • On-site asset searching
  • Patch management
  • Risk and general data classification
  • Container security
  • Intrusion and risk detection

 

How do You Protect Your Organization from Exploits?

Threats are rapidly evolving, just as organizations are continuously adding networks, applications, cloud services, and IT devices to their environments. All of these changes can amount to a new vulnerability in your system, giving attackers the go-signal to tamper with your resources. 

With proper vulnerability management, though, you can lower the chances of each risk to negligible amounts.

At Digital Defense, our team only follows the best practices and provides the most effective threat management solution for our partners. As your security consultant, we can strengthen your existing foundations and continuously refine management processes to save you time and money.

About Digital Defense

Our Frontline.Cloud SaaS platform supports Frontline Vulnerability Manager™, Frontline Web Application Scanning™, and Frontline Active Threat Sweep™ that together provide:

  • Asset discovery and tracking
  • OS and web application risk assessment
  • Targeted malware threat assessment
  • Machine learning features that leverage threat intelligence
  • Agentless & agent-based scanning
  • Penetration testing for networks, mobile applications, and web applications
  • Compliance management. One of the world’s longest tenured PCI-Approved Scanning Vendors

The Frontline.Cloud platform virtually eliminates false-positives associated with legacy vulnerability management solutions, while also automating the tracking of dynamic and transient assets and prioritizing results based on business criticality.

Try Frontline.Cloud™ with a Free 14-Day Evaluation

Share This