New Category Banner Desktop

The InfoSec Essential Guide to Vulnerability Management

Vulnerability management refers to the identification, classification, prioritization, and remediation of vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks. It is an essential component of an organization’s overall security strategy and helps to protect against cyber threats and breaches.

This guide introduces vulnerability management, including the importance of regular vulnerability assessments, the different vulnerabilities, and the steps required to build a vulnerability management plan. This guide presents a range of tools and techniques that can be used to identify and remediate vulnerabilities, as well as best practices for maintaining a strong vulnerability management program.

The topics discussed in the guide include:

Vulnerability management is the method of identifying, assessing, and diminishing security vulnerabilities in computer networks. It is a critical component of an overall information security program, as it assists organizations in proactively identifying and addressing potential cybersecurity and other risks before they can be exploited.

Vulnerability management includes the following steps:

  • Vulnerability scanning: The use of automated tools to scan computer systems, endpoints, and networks for known vulnerabilities.
  • Vulnerability assessment: Once vulnerabilities have been identified, they are assessed for their potential impact on the organization and the likelihood of them being manipulated.
  • Vulnerability remediation: Based on the assessment results, appropriate steps are taken to reduce the risk of exploitation. This can include patching, configuring security controls, or implementing security best practices.
  • Vulnerability monitoring: The continuous monitoring of systems and networks to detect and identify new vulnerabilities.
  • Vulnerability reporting: Documentation, communication, and reporting on the vulnerabilities found, identified risks, and the actions taken to minimize their impact.

Organizations can proactively identify and address potential security risks by implementing a vulnerability management program. This can prevent data breaches, mitigate the impact of security incidents, protect their brand and comply with international regulatory requirements

Why is vulnerability management important?

Vulnerability management is critical in cybersecurity because attackers can exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, disrupt operations, or cause other damage to company infrastructure.

There are many ways in which vulnerability management can protect your company from attacks by cybercriminals and others. These center around the identification, remediation, and mitigation of any threats that could target your company. For example, organizations can reduce their risk of being compromised by continuously identifying and patching vulnerabilities. Additionally, vulnerability management enables organizations to comply with regulations and industry standards for security. Vulnerability management is vital for maintaining your company’s information and systems’ confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

What are the necessary components for a successful vulnerability management plan?

A robust vulnerability management plan is necessary to keep the cyber villains from your door. The adage goes, “Plan your work, and work your plan.” Such a vulnerability management program must include the following critical elements:

  • Vulnerability assessment: Regularly identifying and assessing vulnerabilities in your computer systems, networks, and software to understand the potential impact.
  • Risk prioritization: Prioritizing vulnerabilities based on risk they pose to the organization and considering such factors as the likelihood of exploitation and the potential impact.
  • Remediation planning: Developing plans to address vulnerabilities, including patching, configuration changes, or other mitigation strategies.
  • Patch Management: Regularly applying patches and updates to address vulnerabilities and protect against known threats.
  • Monitoring and detection: Monitor your computer systems and networks for new vulnerabilities and suspicious activity, and detect and respond to security incidents.
  • Compliance: Ensuring that the vulnerability management plan aligns with relevant regulations and industry standards and documenting and reporting all vulnerabilities and any remediation actions taken to counter them.
  • Communication: Communicating vulnerabilities and remediation plans to relevant stakeholders within your organization, including your IT, SecOps, and development teams.
  • Continuous improvement: Continuously reviewing and improving your vulnerability management plan to adapt to changes in the threat landscape and organizational requirements.
  • Employee education: Regularly training employees in the importance of vulnerability management and best practices for reducing vulnerabilities.
  • Third-party vendors and contractors: Regularly assessing and monitoring the security position of third-party vendors and contractors that have been provided with access to your organization’s systems and networks.

Understanding the vulnerability management lifecycle

Any company deploying a vulnerability management lifecycle must incorporate a series of individual checks and balances in a logical stepped sequence.

Typically, such a lifecycle includes the following 7 stages:

  1. Identification: Identifying vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and software through regular scanning and monitoring.
  2. Assessment: Assessing the risks associated with each vulnerability, considering factors such as the likelihood of exploitation and potential impact.
  3. Prioritization: Prioritizing vulnerabilities based on risk, with the most critical vulnerabilities addressed first.
  4. Remediation: Developing and implementing plans to address vulnerabilities, including patching, configuration changes, and other mitigation strategies.
  5. Verification: Verifying that vulnerabilities have been correctly remediated and that your organization is protected against all known threats.
  6. Reporting: Recording and reporting vulnerabilities and the actions taken to address them and providing regular updates to relevant stakeholders.
  7. Continuous improvement: Continuously reviewing and improving the vulnerability management process to adapt to changes in the threat landscape and organizational requirements.

It is essential to understand that the vulnerability management lifecycle is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring, assessment, and improvement to ensure that any vulnerabilities are identified, assessed, and managed appropriately and that your organization can adapt to new threats and changing requirements. 

4 vulnerability management best practices

A set of company-wide best practices must be defined and distributed to establish a solid and effective vulnerability management plan. The following list highlights the key best practice elements that must be implemented to mitigate costly cyber attacks.

It’s also essential to have a comprehensive incident response plan so that if a vulnerability is exploited, the organization can respond quickly and effectively. The following list provides an overview of a number of the key vulnerability management best practices that we recommend for your organization.

1. Align vulnerability management to risk appetite

Every organization has an upper limit on the speed with which it can patch or compensate for vulnerabilities. This is driven by the business’ appetite for operational risk, IT operational capacity/capabilities, and its ability to absorb disruption when attempting to remediate vulnerable technology platforms.

Security leaders can align vulnerability management practices to their organization’s needs and requirements by assessing specific use cases, its operational risk appetite for particular risks or on a risk-by-risk basis, and determining remediation abilities and limitations.

2. Prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk

Organizations need to implement multifaceted, risk-based vulnerability prioritization based on factors such as the severity of the vulnerability, current exploitation activity, business criticality, and exposure of the affected system.

“One of the biggest changes you can make is focusing on the vulnerabilities being exploited in the wild. That should be the number one goal and will drive down the most risk the fastest,” says Lawson.

3. Combine compensating controls and remediation solutions

By combining compensating controls that can patch virtually, such as intrusion detection and prevention systems, with remediation solutions like patch management tools, you can reduce your attack surface more effectively. Newer technologies like breach and attack simulation (BAS) tools also provide insight into how your existing security technologies are configured and whether they are capable of defending against a range of threats like ransomware.

Often, it’s simply not possible to patch a system if, for example, the vendor has not yet provided a patch, the system is no longer supported, or for other reasons like software compatibility. Highly regulated industries also have mandates that can restrict your ability to perform functions like patching.

“Patching isn’t everything,” Lawson says. “It’s hard, can break things, and takes time. Have a plan B — you need more arrows in your quiver than just patching.”

“If you do a better job with your vulnerability management program, you can reduce your attack surface substantially. This allows you to present as a harder target for a threat actor to try to gain some leverage inside your environment. That’s why this is a big deal.”

4. Use technologies to automate vulnerability analysis

Improve remediation windows and efficiency by using technologies that can automate vulnerability analysis.

Review your existing vulnerability assessment solutions and ensure they support newer types of assets like cloud, containers, and cyber-physical systems in your environment. If not, augment or replace the solution.

Resources for vulnerability management

Multiple resources are available for managing vulnerabilities and patching exposures in computer systems and networks if you are concerned with maintaining data confidentiality and integrity as a professional security professional. Finding a reliable, actionable solution to managing those vulnerabilities can be daunting. This section describes the best resources available to manage your organization’s cyber risks and vulnerabilities.

5 ways vulnerability lifecycle management can keep you out of trouble

Vulnerability Lifecycle Management (VLM) is a process that involves identifying, assessing, and remediating vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and software. It is essential because attackers can exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, disrupt operations, or cause other harm. By regularly identifying and patching vulnerabilities, organizations can reduce their risk of being compromised. Additionally, VLM can help organizations comply with regulations and industry standards for security.

VLM can also assist in keeping an organization out of trouble by identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities, assessing risk, and developing remediation plans. Regularly applying patches and updates is an essential aspect of VLM, as it helps address vulnerabilities before cybercriminals can exploit them. It involves the detection of new vulnerabilities by conducting regular vulnerability scans, implementing security controls, and documenting and reporting vulnerabilities and actions taken to address them. It also requires that all company employees play a crucial role in the VLM process. Continuous improvement of a VLM program will ensure that vulnerabilities are identified, assessed, and managed quickly as new threats prevail, reducing the risk of security breaches.

5 tips to master your vulnerability management program

Mastering a vulnerability management program requires a combination of the correct personnel, tools, and processes. Maintaining a committed team of security experts with the knowledge and skills to identify, assess, and remediate vulnerabilities is the first critical step. This team must also monitor, detect, and be responsible for patch management, incident response, and reporting.

Deploying the correct vulnerability management tools is also essential. This includes vulnerability scanning and assessment tools, as well as tools for monitoring and detection, patch management, and incident response. These tools must be regularly updated to identify and prioritize the latest vulnerabilities.

When vulnerabilities put your company at risk, even a tiny mistake can have significant consequences. That’s why it is vital to ensure you are using the correct solutions to manage these risks if you want maximum protection from costly and disruptive security breaches. 

In summary, mastering a vulnerability management program requires combining the correct people, tools, and processes, regular testing, integration with other security controls, communication, education and training, budgeting, support, and continuous improvement.

Vulnerability Management as Service: What is it, and is it right for your company?

Vulnerability Management as a Service (VMaaS) is a service offered by third-party companies that identifies, assesses, and remediates vulnerabilities in your systems and networks. VMaaS providers typically offer various services, such as continuous monitoring, automated patch management, and compliance reporting.

VMaaS can be especially beneficial for small and medium-sized businesses needing more resources or expertise to manage a vulnerability management program in-house. VMaaS providers can offer access to specialized security experts and tools that can help identify and address vulnerabilities more effectively. Additionally, outsourcing Vulnerability Management to a VMaaS provider can be more cost-effective than building and maintaining your own internally.

VMaaS can also help organizations comply with regulations and industry standards for security. Specialist providers can create reports and documentation to demonstrate compliance with regulations and standards, such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and NIST.

It is important to carefully evaluate a range of VMaaS providers and their offerings to ensure that they align with your organization’s specific requirements. You must understand the level of visibility and control you will have over the vulnerability management process and the security of your environment when using a VMaaS provider.

Overall, VMaaS can be a cost-effective and efficient way of managing vulnerabilities and maintaining the security of your systems and networks.

Launch your vulnerability management program

With so many tools and technologies available today, it has always been challenging for enterprises of all sizes to monitor their IT environment continuously. The first step in formulating an effective proactive security strategy is determining what your organization requires from its Vulnerability Management Program. Depending on the size and complexity of your enterprise’s network infrastructure, several options may be appropriate, including commercial off-the-shelf software.

CybeReady is the world’s fastest security awareness training platform. Providing visible results within one week of deployment, CybeReady will raise your organization’s cybersecurity protection, providing the fastest learning experience at less than 3 minutes per month of face-to-face training. With its 1-click activation, it is clear why CybeReady scored 100% from customers on Gartner Peer Insight.

Sign up to receive a free demo of CybeReady’s first-class security awareness training platform.