Vulnerability management is a proactive and continuous process that seeks to keep networks, systems, and general applications as safe as possible from cyberattacks. Vulnerability management is a crucial aspect of security, and it's essential because it can help prevent data breaches that could result in severe damage to organizations.
In this article, we'll delve into the definition of vulnerability management, its process, its importance, and some solutions to perform this task. So if you want to learn how to keep your organization safe from hackers, this is the article you are looking for.
What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management identifies, categorizes, prioritizes, and solves operating systems and software vulnerabilities. Patch management, which consists of distributing and applying updates or software patches, is part of vulnerability management.
It should be noted that vulnerability management is a proactive cybersecurity process that requires patching vulnerabilities and being aware of possible threats and solutions.
This and other cybersecurity measures seek to make the company more secure by reducing the attack surface — which is a great idea since attackers are always looking for security holes and vulnerabilities to carry out cyberattacks.
But in order to fully understand what vulnerability management entails, first we need to establish how are vulnerabilities defined.
A vulnerability is a weakness in a system that can affect the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of data. A hacker may exploit a vulnerability to get unauthorized access to deploy malware and steal, damage, or destroy information and other assets.
Vulnerabilities are described by taking into account the following systems or methods:
- Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) system lists publicly known vulnerabilities and exposures. The United States National Cybersecurity FFRDC, operated by The Mitre organization, maintains this system.
- Common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS) is a free and open industry standard for assessing the severity of vulnerabilities. Scores range from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most severe.
- Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) is a method for identifying systems, applications, and hardware devices that are part of an organization's assets. CPEs are relevant in this context because they describe what a CVE or CCE applies to.
- Common Configuration Enumeration (CCE) is a list of system security configurations that allow “people to quickly and accurately correlate configuration data across multiple information sources and tools,” defined by the Mitre organization.
Why is vulnerability management critical?
Cybercriminals are constantly looking for vulnerabilities and security holes to access company networks. They usually exploit software vulnerabilities to get into the system and deploy malware that might result in data loss or damage. This could be especially dangerous if they find a critical vulnerability that could compromise the whole network.
In this sense, vulnerability management is crucial because it seeks to identify vulnerabilities before they are exploited. It also implies thinking ahead and addressing weaknesses that might not have been reported or found before. It is an overall strategy to reduce surface attacks and improve security, and you can put it in practice with initiatives such as red teaming.
Vulnerability management is relevant for companies because:
- It helps them protect sensitive data that might hamper or stop their businesses.
- It is an effective way of protecting assets.
- It prevents money costs associated with data loss.
- It avoids or reduces the reputation damage caused by a major cyberattack.
- It helps design and adapt the best strategy to reduce the attack surface and improve overall security.
The vulnerability management process
The vulnerability management process can be done following different criteria. Here we are going to describe the 6 step process that is mainly used to allow organizations to identify and deal with computer system security weaknesses effectively.
The first step requires an inventory of all the assets across the network. This includes identifying operating systems, software, and hardware. Once all that data is gathered, it is possible to identify security holes and vulnerabilities.
Just a quick sidenote before we move on to the step: don't forget that you can automate discovery with an ITAM tool as InvGate Insight. Besides always having an up-to-date inventory of assets, you'll be preventing shadow IT and getting ready for software audits.
It implies categorizing assets into groups and assigning them a value based on how critical they are to your company. The more relevant they are, the higher their priority should be given. This step is crucial because it will help the IT security department know what to tackle and how to do it.
At this point, you should establish a risk baseline as a reference. It will indicate which risks need to be eliminated based on asset classification and type of vulnerability threat.
This is the moment to fix vulnerabilities identified based on previously established risk prioritization. Once the remediation process is complete, the information gathered should be documented for the following stages.
You should ensure each vulnerability remediation has been appropriately done through an auditing process, including scans and cross-examinations.
Finally, a thorough report should be delivered to the management. It is necessary to specify the state of affairs in terms of identified and fixed vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability management tools
Vulnerability management programs scan for vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the network to provide solutions and remediation recommendations. These tools help adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity so that your organization can be a step ahead of cybercriminals.
These programs can automatically download and apply patches to software and operating systems. But there is more to it: these tools offer solutions to potential security threats. They can also identify different threat levels to help the IT security team know what to address first.
There are different kinds of vulnerability management programs. Some are more complete than others. The idea is to choose solutions that have these features:
- IT asset management (ITAM) is an essential part of vulnerability management. ITAM covers the first step in the vulnerability management process: identifying all the assets the company has. Knowing what needs to be protected is crucial before any cybersecurity strategy is designed.
- Vulnerability scanning to identify risks such as software vulnerability, security holes, and missing patches. This should be a continuous process.
- Visualization of the attack surface and risk scoring of any security vulnerability identified. This can be done through security incident and event management (SIEM) software, which gives real-time visibility of everything in the IT infrastructure.
- Configuration management to make sure that endpoints are configured securely.
- Vulnerability assessments to analyze the organization's overall approach to security and help the security IT department plan and adopt remediation strategies.
- Automated remediation to address potential threats.
- Patch management to automatically apply patches and fixes.
- Penetration testing is a tool used by IT experts to simulate attacks and, in this way, identify weaknesses in the system.
- Threat protection software analyzes potential threats based on information collected from various sources. This can help a company plan in advance future security strategies.
Not all vulnerability management tools have these features. Therefore, you might need to acquire different products to address all these aspects.
Other aspects to take into account when choosing a vulnerability management solution:
- Assets covered: some tools work on all devices, while others cover only servers or computers, for instance.
- Compatibility: it is important to know if the tools work only on some operating systems or all of them. Some only work on Windows or Linux, while others can work over different operating systems.
Vulnerability management about is identifying, assessing, managing, and remediating vulnerabilities across the network.
It's a continuous and regular process that helps you to reduce the attack surface and improve the overall security of your company. It is essential because it allows to be a step ahead of cyber criminals, and therefore avoid the dire consequences a cyberattack might have in terms of reputation, money, and data loss.
To perform this task, the IT security department should follow a procedure with the following requirements:
- Knowing the assets at stake
- Prioritizing the elements at risk
- Establishing a risk baseline
- Remediating the problems found
- Verifying the remediation processes have been completed
- Reporting on what you’ve done
But luckily, you're not alone in this. There are several vulnerability management solutions that can assist you in completing this task. Just don't forget that you might need more than one tool to carry out everything effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between vulnerability management and vulnerability assessment?
Vulnerability assessment is only a part of vulnerability management. Vulnerability assessment is a one-time examination of the systems or network, whereas vulnerability management involves many layers and steps.
How to manage vulnerabilities?
Vulnerability management should be a continuous process to protect organizations from present and future threats. The idea is to mitigate as many vulnerabilities as possible. To manage vulnerabilities is vital to have a well-prepared security IT department and reliable management tools to automate and control the whole process.
What is the cycle for vulnerability management?
The vulnerability management cycle is meant to examine all the assets, detect security flaws and weaknesses in the network, and prioritize the actions to be taken. Then, the remediations are performed, assessed, and informed through reports.
What are the 4 main types of vulnerability?
- System misconfigurations: this opens the door to cyber criminals who probe to see if the systems are well protected or if there are security holes they can take advantage of.
- Outdated software: this means that patches of known vulnerabilities are not installed. Therefore, criminals can easily exploit those vulnerabilities and steal or destroy data.
- Weak authorization credentials: Strong passwords and multifactor authentication are key to avoiding this risk.
- Insider threats: employees who have access to critical information could end up, intentionally or not, giving key information to hackers.
What are standard methods for managing vulnerabilities?
There are different methods, but most of them require:
- Using vulnerability scanning solutions, firewalls, and other security tools.
- The regular update of software and operating systems.
- The implementation of the least privilege principle. This means restricting access to critical data only to those employees who need it to do their job.