What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management is a risk-based approach to discovering, prioritizing, and remediating vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.
Vulnerability management defined
Vulnerability management is a continuous, proactive, and often automated process that keeps your computer systems, networks, and enterprise applications safe from cyberattacks and data breaches. As such, it is an important part of an overall security program. By identifying, assessing, and addressing potential security weaknesses, organizations can help prevent attacks and minimize damage if one does occur.
The goal of vulnerability management is to reduce the organization's overall risk exposure by mitigating as many vulnerabilities as possible. This can be a challenging task, given the number of potential vulnerabilities and the limited resources available for remediation. Vulnerability management should be a continuous process to keep up with new and emerging threats and changing environments.
How vulnerability management works
Threat and vulnerability management uses a variety of tools and solutions to prevent and address cyberthreats. An effective vulnerability management program typically includes the following components:
Asset discovery and inventory
IT is responsible for tracking and maintaining records of all devices, software, servers, and more across the company’s digital environment, but this can be extremely complex since many organizations have thousands of assets across multiple locations. That’s why IT professionals turn to asset inventory management systems, which help provide visibility into what assets a company has, where they’re located, and how they’re being used.
Vulnerability scanners usually work by conducting a series of tests against systems and networks, looking for common weaknesses or flaws. These tests can include attempting to exploit known vulnerabilities, guessing default passwords or user accounts, or simply trying to gain access to restricted areas.
Patch management software is a tool that helps organizations keep their computer systems up to date with the latest security patches. Most patch management solutions will automatically check for updates and prompt the user when new ones are available. Some patch management systems also allow for deployment of patches across multiple computers in an organization, making it easier to keep large fleets of machines secure.
Security Configuration Management (SCM) software helps to ensure that devices are configured in a secure manner, that changes to device security settings are tracked and approved, and that systems are compliant with security policies. Many SCM tools include features that allow organizations to scan devices and networks for vulnerabilities, track remediation actions, and generate reports on security policy compliance.
Security incident and event management(SIEM)
SIEM software consolidates an organization's security information and events in real time. SIEM solutions are designed to give organizations visibility into everything that's happening across their entire digital estate, including IT infrastructure. This includes monitoring network traffic, identifying devices that are trying to connect to internal systems, keeping track of user activity, and more.
Penetration testing software is designed to help IT professionals find and exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems. Typically, penetration testing software provides a graphical user interface (GUI) that makes it easy to launch attacks and see the results. Some products also offer automation features to help speed up the testing process. By simulating attacks, testers can identify weak spots in systems that could be exploited by real-world attackers.
Threat protection software provides organizations with the ability to track, monitor, analyze, and prioritize potential threats to better protect themselves. By collecting data from a variety of sources—such as exploit databases and security advisories—these solutions help companies identify trends and patterns that could indicate a future security breach or attack.
Remediation involves prioritizing vulnerabilities, identifying appropriate next steps, and generating remediation tickets so that IT teams can execute on them. Finally, remediation tracking is an important tool for ensuring that the vulnerability or misconfiguration is properly addressed.
Vulnerability management lifecycle
The vulnerability management lifecycle has six key phases. Organizations looking to implement or improve their vulnerability management program can follow these steps.
Phase 1: Discovery
Create a full asset inventory across your organization’s network. Develop a baseline for your security program by identifying vulnerabilities on an automated schedule so you can stay ahead of threats to company information.
Phase 4: Reporting
Next, determine the various levels of risk associated with each asset based on your assessment results. Then, document your security plan and report known vulnerabilities.
Phase 2: Prioritization of assets
Assign a value to each asset group that is reflective of its criticality. This will help you understand which groups need more attention and will help streamline your decision-making process when faced with allocating resources.
Phase 5: Remediation
Now that you know which vulnerabilities are the most pressing for your business, it’s time to fix them, starting with those that pose the highest risks.
Phase 3: Assessment
The third part of the vulnerability management lifestyle is assessing your assets to understand the risk profile of each one. This allows you to determine which risks to eliminate first based on a variety of factors, including its criticality and vulnerability threat levels as well as classification.
Phase 6: Verification and monitoring
The final phase of the vulnerability management process includes using regular audits and process follow-up to ensure that threats have been eliminated.
Vulnerability management benefits
Vulnerability management helps businesses identify and fix potential security issues before they become serious cybersecurity concerns. By preventing data breaches and other security incidents, vulnerability management can prevent damage to a company's reputation and bottom line.
Additionally, vulnerability management can improve compliance with various security standards and regulations. And finally, it can help organizations better understand their overall security risk posture and where they may need to make improvements.
In today’s hyperconnected world, running occasional security scans and dealing with cyberthreats in a reactive manner is not a sufficient cybersecurity strategy. A solid vulnerability management process has three key advantages over ad hoc efforts, including:
Improved security and control
By regularly scanning for vulnerabilities and patching them in a timely manner, organizations can make it significantly harder for attackers to gain access to their systems. Additionally, robust vulnerability management practices can help organizations identify potential weaknesses in their security posture before attackers do.
Visibility and reporting
Vulnerability management provides centralized, accurate, and up-to-date reporting on the status of an organization’s security posture, giving IT personnel at all levels real-time visibility into potential threats and vulnerabilities.
By understanding and mitigating security risks, businesses can minimize system downtime and protect their data. Improving the overall vulnerability management process also decreases the amount of time required to recover from any incidents that do occur.
How to manage vulnerabilities
Once you have a vulnerability management program in place, there are four basic steps for managing known and potential vulnerabilities as well as misconfigurations.
Step 1: Identify vulnerabilities
Scanning for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations is often at the center of a vulnerability management program. Vulnerability scanners—which are typically continuous and automated—identify weaknesses, threats, and potential vulnerabilities across systems and networks.
Step 2: Evaluate vulnerabilities
Once potential vulnerabilities and misconfigurations are identified, they must be validated as a true vulnerability, rated according to risk, and prioritized based on those risk ratings.
Step 3: Address vulnerabilities
After evaluation, organizations have a few options for treating known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. The best option is to remediate, which means fully fixing or patching vulnerabilities. If full remediation isn’t possible, organizations can mitigate, which means decreasing the possibility of exploitation or minimizing the potential damage. Finally, they can accept the vulnerability—for example, when the associated risk is low—and take no action.
Step 4: Report vulnerabilities
Once vulnerabilities are treated, it’s important to document and report known vulnerabilities. Doing so helps IT personnel track vulnerability trends across their networks and ensures that organizations remain compliant with various security standards and regulations.
Vulnerability management solutions
Clearly, having a solid vulnerability management process in place is not only a smart decision—it’s a necessary one. It's critical to find a vulnerability management solution that bridges the gap between teams, maximizes resources, and provides all your visibility, assessment, and remediation capabilities in a single place.
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Frequently asked questions
Vulnerability management is essential for any organization that relies on information technology, as it helps to protect against known and unknown threats. In today's hyperconnected world, new vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered, so it's important to have a process in place for managing them. By implementing a vulnerability management program, you can reduce the risk of exploitation and safeguard your organization against potential attacks.
The key difference between vulnerability management and assessment is that vulnerability management is an on-going process while vulnerability assessment is a one-time event. Vulnerability management is the process of continuously identifying, evaluating, treating, and reporting vulnerabilities. Assessment, on the other hand, is the act of determining the risk profile of each vulnerability.
Vulnerability scanning is the process of identifying known and potential security vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scanners—which can be operated manually or automatically—use various methods to probe systems and networks. Once a vulnerability is found, the scanner will attempt to exploit it in order to determine whether a hacker could potentially exploit it as well. This information can then be used to help organizations patch their systems and develop a plan to improve their overall security posture.
There are many ways to manage vulnerabilities, but some common methods include:
- Using vulnerability scanning tools to identify potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited
- Restricting access to sensitive information and systems to authorized users only
- Updating software and security patches regularly
- Deploying firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security measures to protect against attacks