Effective Vulnerability Management in the Age of Cyber Threats

Effectively managing vulnerabilities is a critical component of cybersecurity. It requires continuous attention and various factors involving risk management, asset inventory, budget, time, environmental complexity and automation.

The goal of a vulnerability management program is to identify, classify, remediate and maintain mitigations of all vulnerabilities throughout the environment to proactively defend against threats.

Developing and maintaining such a program is a task that crosses departmental borders and requires substantial leadership support and continuous involvement. This support is crucial not only in terms of allocating resources but also in fostering a culture of security awareness throughout an organization.

As a business leader, you may be reading this and wondering, “But isn’t vulnerability management the sole responsibility of our IT or security department?”

No, it’s not.

How Vulnerability Management Works

Vulnerability management requires collaboration across various departments to work effectively. Leadership can encourage and facilitate cross-departmental collaboration to ensure a unified approach, even establishing a cybersecurity task force that includes members from various departments (IT, security, HR, legal, operations, etc.).

Leadership can also help a vulnerability management program be successful by providing context to align the program with the organization’s business goals and objectives. However, leadership must understand the strategic importance of cybersecurity and how vulnerabilities can greatly impact the risks to the organization and potentially impact reputation, regulatory compliance and ultimately financial stability.

Implementing a comprehensive vulnerability management program requires adequate resources including financial investment, skilled personnel and the right tools and technologies.

Senior leadership plays a crucial role in ensuring that cybersecurity teams have access to the necessary resources to carry out their duties effectively. This could mean investing in advanced security tools, hiring experienced cybersecurity consultants, or providing ongoing training and education to the existing staff.

Finally, leadership involvement in vulnerability management extends beyond policy and resource allocation; it includes setting good examples for other members of the organization. When leaders demonstrate commitment to cybersecurity best practices, it helps send a message to the entire organization about the value and emphasis placed on security.

4 Steps to Effectively Implementing Vulnerability Management

1. Laying the Groundwork

The first step to effective vulnerability management is to identify the assets within an organization and further determine how the assets are to be included in a vulnerability management program. These devices can include servers, workstations, network devices, software assets (applications, operating systems, data repositories) and cloud assets. Once identified, assets should be classified based on their type, function and criticality.

For instance, a server hosting sensitive customer data may be considered a high-value asset when compared to a workstation used only for routine tasks. Once established, these inventories must not be static; they need regular updates to reflect new acquisitions, decommissions and changes in existing assets.

This inventory provides the required data to develop a risk profile for each asset or asset type. Each asset should have an associated “criticality level” based on its importance to business operations and its impact on business if compromised.

NOTE: This is the step where data loss, business interruption, financial loss, reputational damage and compliance violations are paired with asset inventory.

2.  Identifying Weaknesses

Identifying vulnerabilities within an organization’s network/systems is foundational to the process of vulnerability management. This process typically involves a thorough, systematic and (hopefully) automated examination of all IT systems identified to be involved in the vulnerability management program.

Not only are sophisticated tools used during this phase, but an understanding of the current cybersecurity landscape and active threats must be included in the identification and analysis of asset vulnerabilities.

3. Investing in Scanning Solutions

OpenVAS: This open-source (free) tool offers comprehensive system scanning capabilities that can detect vulnerabilities across various systems and networks through authenticated and unauthenticated testing methods.

Nessus: This highly regarded vulnerability scan tool has (at the time of this writing) the most extensive vulnerability database. It is robust and expensive but provides detailed insights into potential vulnerabilities and offers recommendations for remediation. High-speed asset discovery, vulnerability scanning and compliance checks make Nessus extremely valuable in a vulnerability management program.

There is an extensive market for scanning solutions, with other tools like Qualys, Rapid7, Burp Suite and others available for use in identifying vulnerabilities. However, the data from these tools should be analyzed and paired with data from MITRE and information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs) to better inform the analysis of vulnerabilities.

Now that the vulnerabilities have been identified, it is important to understand the context of the vulnerability in the organization’s unique environment. This involves a deeper-dive analysis to determine the “real” nature of each vulnerability, the systems affected, and the potential impact of exploitation.

This analysis will ultimately lead to the need to prioritize vulnerabilities. They should be prioritized based on:

  • The risk they pose, which is determined by the criticality of the affected asset.
  • The severity of the vulnerabilities.
  • The likelihood of exploitation. 

This prioritization will help the involved teams sort through mountains of vulnerability data, discover false positives and finally uncover a starting point to develop remediation plans.

4. Remediation Planning

Leadership should establish clear objectives for the remediation process. This may range from completely removing the vulnerability, reducing the risk to an acceptable level or transferring potential impact to a third party.

The remediation plan should also estimate the resources required during remediation, including personnel, technology, time and additional risk (i.e., what if a patch breaks a production system?). This will help ensure that the allocation of resources aligns with the priority of the vulnerabilities.

Once established, the next step is to validate, get approval for and execute the remediation plan. During this process, leadership will maintain documentation of every step of the remediation process and include notes on actions taken, personnel involved and any outcomes. This documentation may be critical for compliance requirements or may assist in future remediation efforts.

The vulnerability management process now enters a feedback loop where lessons learned from each remediation cycle or iteration are used to improve future vulnerability management efforts. This will help the organization refine scanning techniques to reduce false positives, update risk profiles and enhance remediation strategies. 

Ready to Start Your Vulnerability Management Program?

Business leaders can feel caught in a whirlwind of technology. Trying to stay current in today’s digital landscape can be frustrating and negatively affect your growth and ultimately your profitability. Working with tech consulting firms to clarify strategy provides a rudder to navigate shifting these winds.

At Afidence, keeping your computer systems, networks and enterprise applications safe from cyberattacks and data breaches is our number one priority. With the right technology, your business can stay on top of budgeting concerns while meeting critical goals. Contact us or Book a consultation today to learn more about how vulnerability management can protect your business from cyber threats.

Share the Knowledge

Cyber Crime

Prepare for the Inevitable With Our Free Guide

It’s not anything you want to think about, but cyber crime is a threat every business must face. With this guide, you can map out a plan to protect and prepare your company for the inevitable.

There is a never-ending list of examples of companies (big and small) that have been victimized by cyber crime. In fact, former FBI Director Robert Mueller once said, “There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.”

Get the Guide

Cyber Crime Prepare For Inevitable Attack promo wide