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Vulnerability management is an important part of any cybersecurity strategy. It involves proactive assessment, prioritization and treatment, as well as a comprehensive report of vulnerabilities within IT systems. This article explains vulnerability management in reasonable detail, as well as its key processes and the best practices for 2022.
The internet is a vital worldwide resource that many organizations utilize. However, connecting to the internet can expose organizations’ networks to security risks. Cybercriminals get into networks, sneak malware into computers, steal confidential information and can shut down organizations’ IT systems.
As a result of the pandemic, there has been an increase in remote work, which has raised security risks even higher, leading any organization to be the target of a data leak or malware attack.
According to the Allianz Risk Barometer, cyberthreats will be the biggest concern for organizations globally in 2022.
“Before 2025, about 30% of critical infrastructure organizations will experience a security breach that will shut down operations in the organizations,” Gartner predicts.
This is why, for both large and small organizations, proactively detecting security issues and closing loopholes is a must. This is where vulnerability management comes in.
What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management is an important part of cybersecurity strategy. It involves proactive assessment, prioritization and treatment, as well as a comprehensive report of vulnerabilities within IT systems.
A vulnerability is a “condition of being open to harm or attack” in any system. In this age of information technology, organizations frequently store, share and secure information. These necessary activities expose the organizations’ systems to a slew of risks, due to open communication ports, insecure application setups and exploitable holes in the system and its surroundings.
Vulnerability management identifies IT assets and compares them to a constantly updated vulnerability database to spot threats, misconfigurations and weaknesses. Vulnerability management should be done regularly to avoid cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities in IT systems, which could lead to service interruptions and costly data breaches.
While the term “vulnerability management” is often used interchangeably with “patch management,” they are not the same thing. Vulnerability management involves a holistic view to making informed decisions about which vulnerabilities demand urgent attention and how to patch them.
[Related: Why edge and endpoint security matter in a zero-trust world]
Vulnerability management lifecycle: Key processes
Vulnerability management is a multistep process that must be completed to remain effective. It usually evolves in tandem with the expansion of organizations’ networks. The vulnerability management process lifecycle is designed to help organizations assess their systems to detect threats, prioritize assets, remedy the threats and document a report to show the threats have been fixed. The following sections go into greater detail about each of the processes.
1. Assess and identify vulnerability
Vulnerability assessment is a crucial aspect of vulnerability management as it aids in the detection of vulnerabilities in your network, computer or other IT asset. It then suggests mitigation or remediation if and when necessary. Vulnerability assessment includes using vulnerability scanners, firewall logs and penetration test results to identify security flaws that could lead to malware attacks or other malicious events.
Vulnerability assessment determines if a vulnerability in your system or network is a false positive or true positive. It tells you how long the vulnerability has been on your system and what impact it would have on your organization if it were exploited.
A beneficial vulnerability assessment performs unauthenticated and authenticated vulnerability scans to find multiple vulnerabilities, such as missing patches and configuration issues. When identifying vulnerabilities, however, extra caution should be taken to avoid going beyond the scope of the allowed targets. Other parts of your system may be disrupted if not accurately mapped.
2. Prioritize vulnerability
Once vulnerabilities have been identified, they must be prioritized, so the risks posed can be neutralized properly. The efficacy of vulnerability prioritization is directly tied to its ability to focus on the vulnerabilities that pose the greatest risk to your organization’s systems. It also aids the identification of high-value assets that contain sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), customer data or protected health information (PHI).
With your assets already prioritized, you need to gauge the threat exposure of each asset. This will need some inquiry and research to assess the amount of danger for each one. Anything less may be too vague to be relevant to your IT remediation teams, causing them to waste time remediating low- or no-risk vulnerabilities.
Most organizations today prioritize vulnerabilities using one of two methods. They use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to identify which vulnerabilities should be addressed first — or they accept the prioritization offered by their vulnerability scanning solution. It is imperative to remember that prioritization methods and the data that support them must be re-assessed regularly.
Prioritization is necessary because the average company has millions of cyber vulnerabilities, yet even the most well-equipped teams can only fix roughly 10% of them. A report from VMware states that “50% of cyberattacks today not only target a network, but also those connected via a supply chain.” So, prioritize vulnerabilities reactively and proactively.
3. Patch/treat vulnerability
What do you do with the information you gathered at the prioritization stage? Of course, you’ll devise a solution for treating or patching the detected flaws in the order of their severity. There are a variety of solutions to treat or patch vulnerabilities to make the workflow easier:
- Acceptance: You can accept the risk of the vulnerable asset to your system. For noncritical vulnerabilities, this is the most likely solution. When the cost of fixing the vulnerability is much higher than the costs of exploiting it, acceptance may be the best alternative.
- Mitigation: You can reduce the risk of a cyberattack by devising a solution that makes it tough for an attacker to exploit your system. When adequate patches or treatments for identified vulnerabilities aren’t yet available, you can use this solution. This will buy you time by preventing breaches until you can remediate the vulnerability.
- Remediation: You can remediate a vulnerability by creating a solution that will fully patch or treat it, such that cyberattackers cannot exploit it. If the vulnerability is known to be high risk and/or affects a key system or asset in your organization, this is the recommended solution. Before it becomes a point of attack, patch or upgrades the asset.
4. Verify vulnerability
Make time to double-check your work after you’ve fixed any vulnerabilities. Verifying vulnerabilities will reveal whether the steps made were successful and whether new issues have arisen concerning the same assets. Verification adds value to a vulnerability management plan and improves its efficiency. This allows you to double-check your work, mark issues off your to-do list and add new ones if necessary.
Verifying vulnerabilities provides you with evidence that a specific vulnerability is persistent, which informs your proactive approach to strengthen your system against malicious attacks. Verifying vulnerabilities not only gives you a better understanding of how to remedy any vulnerability promptly but also allows you to track vulnerability patterns over time in different portions of your network. The verification stage prepares the ground for reporting, which is the next stage.
5. Report vulnerability
Finally, your IT team, executives, and other employees must be aware of the current risk level associated with vulnerabilities. IT must provide tactical reporting on detected and remedied vulnerabilities (by comparing the most recent scan with the previous one). The executives require an overview of the present status of exposure (think red/yellow/green reporting). Other employees must likewise be aware of how their internet activity may harm the company’s infrastructure.
To be prepared for future threats, your organization must constantly learn from past dangers. Reports make this idea a reality and reinforce the ability of your IT team to address emerging vulnerabilities as they come up. Additionally, consistent reporting can assist your security team in meeting risk management KPIs, as well as regulatory requirements.
[Related: Everything you need to know about zero-trust architecture ]
Top 8 best practices for vulnerability management policy in 2022
Vulnerability management protects your network from attacks, but only if you use it to its full potential and follow industry best practices. You can improve your company’s security and get the most out of your vulnerability management policy by following these top eight best practices for vulnerability management policy in 2022.
1. Map out and account for all networks and IT assets
Your accessible assets and potentially vulnerable entry points expand as your company grows. It’s critical to be aware of any assets in your current software systems, such as individual terminals, internet-connected portals, accounts and so on. One piece of long-forgotten hardware or software could be your undoing. They can appear harmless, sitting in the corner with little or no use, but these obsolete assets are frequently vulnerable points in your security infrastructure that potential cyberattackers are eager to exploit.
When you know about everything that is connected to a specific system, you will keep an eye out for any potential flaws. It’s a good idea to search for new assets regularly to ensure that everything is protected within your broader security covering. Make sure you keep track of all of your assets, whether they are software or hardware, as it is difficult to protect assets that you’ve forgotten about. Always keep in mind that the security posture of your organization is only as strong as the weakest places in your network.
2. Train and involve everyone (security is everyone’s business)
While your organization’s IT specialists will handle the majority of the work when it comes to vulnerability management, your entire organization should be involved. Employees need to be well-informed on how their online activities can jeopardize the organization’s systems. The majority of cyberattacks are a result of employees’ improper usage of the organization’s systems. Though it’s always unintentional, employees that are less knowledgeable about cybersecurity should be informed and updated so that they are aware of common blunders that could allow hackers to gain access to sensitive data.
Due to the increase in remote work occasioned by the pandemic, there’s been a major rise in cybercrime and phishing attacks. Most remote jobs have insufficient security protocols, and many employees that now work remotely have little or no knowledge about cyberattacks. In addition to regular training sessions to keep your IT teams up to date, other employees need to know best practices for creating passwords and how to secure their Wi-Fi at home, so they can prevent hacking while working remotely.
3. Deploy the right vulnerability management solutions
Vulnerability scanning solutions come in a variety of forms, but some are better than others, as they often include a console and scanning engines. The ideal scanning solutions should be simple to use so that everyone on your team can use them without extensive training. Users can focus on more complicated activities when the repeated stages in the solutions have been automated.
Also, look into the false-positive rates of the solutions you are considering. The ones that prompt false alarms might cost you money and time because your security teams will have to eventually execute manual scanning. Your scanning program should also allow you to create detailed reports that include data and vulnerabilities. If the scanning solutions you’re using can’t share information with you, you may have to select one that can.
4. Scan frequently
The efficiency of vulnerability management is often determined by the number of times you perform vulnerability scanning. Regular scanning is the most effective technique to detect new vulnerabilities as they emerge, whether as a result of unanticipated issues or as a result of new vulnerabilities introduced during updates or program modifications.
Moreover, vulnerability management software can automate scans to run regularly and during low-traffic times. Even if you don’t have vulnerability management software, it’s probably still good to have one of your IT team members run manual scans regularly to be cautious.
Adopting a culture of frequent infrastructure scanning helps bridge the gap that can leave your system at risk to new vulnerabilities at a time when attackers are continually refining their methods. Scanning your devices on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis can help you stay on top of system weak points and add value to your company.
5. Prioritize scanning hosts
Your cybersecurity teams must rank vulnerabilities according to the level of threats they pose to your organization’s assets. Prioritizing allows IT professionals to focus on patching the assets that offer the greatest risk to your organization, such as all internet-connected devices in your organization’s systems.
Similarly, using both automated and manual asset assessments can help you prioritize the frequency and scope of assessments that are required, based on the risk value assigned to each of them. A broad assessment and manual expert security testing can be assigned to a high-risk asset, while a low-risk asset merely requires a general vulnerability scan.
6. Document all the scans and their results
Even if no vulnerabilities are discovered, the results of your scanning must be documented regularly. This creates a digital trail of scan results, which might aid your IT team in identifying scan flaws later on if a potential vulnerability is exploited without the scan recognizing it. It’s the most effective technique to ensure that future scans are as accurate and efficient as possible.
However, always make sure that the reports are written in a way that is understandable not just by the organization’s IT teams, but also by the nontechnical management and executives.
7. Do more than patching
In the vulnerability management process, remediation must take shape in the context of a world where patching isn’t the only option. Configuration management and compensating controls, such as shutting down a process, session or module, are other remediation options. From vulnerability to vulnerability, the best remediation method (or a mix of methods) will vary.
To achieve this best practice, the organization’s cumulative vulnerability management expertise should be used to maintain an understanding of how to match the optimal remediation solution to a vulnerability. It’s also reasonable to use third-party knowledge bases that rely on massive data.
8. Maintain a single source of truth
When it comes to remediating vulnerability, most organizations have multiple teams working on it. For instance, the security team is responsible for detecting vulnerabilities, but it is the IT or devops team that is expected to remediate. Effective collaboration is essential to create a closed detection-remediation loop.
If you are asked how many endpoints or devices are on your network right now, will you be confident that you know the answer? Even if you do, will other people in your organization give the same answer? It’s vital to have visibility and know what assets are on your network, but it’s also critical to have a single source of truth for that data so that everyone in the company can make decisions based on the same information. This best practice can be implemented in-house or via third-party solutions.
Be wiser than the attackers
As you continually change the cloud services, mobile devices, apps and networks in your organization, you give threats and cyberattacks the opportunity to expand. With each change, there’s a chance that a new vulnerability in your network will emerge, allowing attackers to sneak in and steal your vital information.
When you bring on a new affiliate partner, employee, client or customer, you’re exposing your company to new prospects as well as new threats. To protect your company from these threats, you’ll need a vulnerability management system that can keep up with and respond to all of these developments. Attackers will always be one step ahead if this isn’t done.
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