Vulnerability Management: A Guide
What is Vulnerability Management?
Vulnerability management is the ongoing practice of continually identifying, classifying, prioritizing, remediating, and mitigating software vulnerabilities or weaknesses in operating systems, enterprise applications — whether in the cloud or on-premises. It also applies to browsers and end-user applications.
Vulnerability management is integral to both computer and network security. It enables an organization to monitor its digital environment for potential risks in real time.
There were 18,378 vulnerabilities reported in 2021, according to The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a record for the fifth year in a row.
Vulnerabilities can be discovered with a vulnerability scanner, a program that analyzes a computer system in search of known vulnerabilities, such as open ports, insecure software configurations, and susceptibility to malware infections. They may also be identified by consulting public sources, such as NVD, or subscribing to a commercial vulnerability alerting service.
Scanning makes vulnerability management possible. The next step is remediating vulnerabilities, which can be done through the installation of a patch, a change in network security policy, reconfiguration of security setting or educating users about social engineering.
Making vulnerability management programs work
For vulnerability management to be effective, there must be an organizational mindset change within IT to continually discover and remediate new vulnerabilities.
By now, it is a given that data breaches and cyberattacks will only continue to rise and grow more sophisticated. When a vulnerability management plan is in place, it ensures IT is working to strengthen cybersecurity weak spots to try and thwart these attacks, while addressing the highest risk vulnerabilities. (Prioritization is a vital issue; most large organizations face a backlog of vulnerabilities that they haven’t patched. Some software vulnerabilities may not be exploitable in a given environment, for example because the function in question is never loaded into memory, or due to compensating controls. This is where a dynamic software bill of materials (SBOM) and automated vulnerability validation play a key role in vulnerability management programs.)
Vulnerability scanning and vulnerability management are required to achieve compliance with regulations and industry standards such as the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 27001, Information Security Management System (ISMS), one of the most widely used standards in the ISO family.
The SANS Vulnerability Management Maturity Model helps IT gauge the effectiveness of its vulnerability management program.
Vulnerability management and vulnerability assessment are both core to effectively addressing and resolving cybersecurity vulnerabilities. However, they are not synonymous terms.
A vulnerability assessment is the first step in the vulnerability management process. Most organizations use scanning tools to collection information from the devices on their network, such as the version of software that is installed. Then they compare it to known vulnerabilities software vendors alert them to.
Then IT runs scans at scheduled intervals and set times for upgrades and patching.
In contrast, vulnerability management is a lifecycle process and not something done on an ad hoc or scheduled basis. It is an ongoing program that moves from assessment to prioritization and remediation. Multiple data sources are used in vulnerability management to continually assess and reassess the current state of software and services.
To sum it up, a vulnerability assessment provides a snapshot of the IT software portfolio while vulnerability management offers constantly evolving, real-time intelligence, remediation guidance, and reporting.
A vulnerability management system flags the vulnerabilities that must be addressed immediately and can even recommend the best way to mitigate when business, threat, exploitation, and risk context are added to the software information generated by the assessment tools.
The core elements of a vulnerability management program are constant assessment, evaluation, repair, and reporting on vulnerabilities that allow you to manage and address security vulnerabilities on a day-to-day basis. This means that weaknesses can be discovered more quickly, the highest impact issues can be addressed first, and fewer vulnerabilities get overlooked.
Simply put, a vulnerability assessment gives you a snapshot of your IT software stance; vulnerability management offers constantly evolving, real-time intelligence, remediation guidance, and reporting.
Unlike cybersecurity tools such as antivirus software and firewalls, which are designed to be reactive, vulnerability management software takes a different approach. As previously mentioned, in a vulnerability management program, IT will want tools that aim to proactively look for weaknesses by scanning and identifying network vulnerabilities.
This type of tool will also provide insights into how to remediate and prevent future corporate security breaches. Vulnerability management software is also designed to save security staff time so they can concentrate on other strategic projects.
There are a number of tools that offer basic vulnerability scanning, and many are free. The next level is vulnerability assessment, which analyzes an organization’s overall security posture and vulnerabilities and can prioritize solutions. Enterprises looking for a comprehensive security platform will want to look at vulnerability management systems, which blend both approaches and adds prioritization and remediation features that are sometimes automated.
Key features of vulnerability management software
Here is some criteria of what to look for in vulnerability management software:
- A vulnerability scanner that will run on demand and a schedule
- The most significant possible number of known vulnerabilities in the scanner’s checklist
- An easy-to-manage software package or cloud platform
- The ability to link the results of the scanner to remediation actions
- Process and results logging for later analysis
- A way to test the system for free with a trial period, a demo, or a money-back guarantee
- Good value for money, represented by extensive tests for a fair price
Vulnerability scanning and assessment have always been cornerstones of a cybersecurity program, but in today’s world with remote work on the rise — and here for the foreseeable future — a more comprehensive vulnerability management approach is required.
Vulnerability management systems take scanning and assessment a step further, by providing valuable insight and risk context so that any vulnerability that is discovered can be properly analyzed and prioritized for remediation. As organizations struggle to effectively manage increasingly complex networks, the proliferation of endpoints, and a mounting number of cyber threats, this type of proactive cybersecurity has never been more important than it is now.
There are three main facts about vulnerabilities that make vulnerability management even more crucial than before:
- The number of vulnerabilities has increased exponentially
- There are new types of vulnerabilities
- There are new ways to exploit vulnerabilities
In 2022, expect to see increased remote work, continued acceleration of digital transformations, and ever-changing and more sophisticated cyberattack strategies. An advanced, proactive approach to vulnerability management positions an organization to stay ahead of the curve.