Every year, numerous new vulnerabilities are discovered on your network. The vulnerabilities require organizations to patch operating systems and applications and reconfigure the security setting throughout the entire network environment.
Proactively addressing the vulnerabilities is necessary to prevent them from being utilized for cyber-attacks. Therefore, organizations concerned about their network environment security perform vulnerability management to ensure the highest level of security.
This article takes you through the vulnerability management process while speaking about the importance of vulnerability management for today’s businesses.
Table of Contents
What is the Vulnerability Management Process?
The vulnerability management process is continuous, and its purpose is to detect the risks on your network while creating a plan to prevent the vulnerabilities from bringing adverse outcomes.
A robust vulnerability scanning and management system combines a team of security experts and technology to proactively identify, act upon, and mitigate security threats.
Vulnerabilities are weaknesses in systems, leaving them open to attacks. They can be the results of software, hardware, or implementation flaw, making the system vulnerable to potential risks.
Many vulnerabilities are easy to identify and fix as hardware and software vendors keep an eye on them and continue writing and releasing patches. However, when employees ignore the updates, the vulnerabilities slip through the cracks, and cyber security is threatened.
A sound vulnerability management system works through multiple stages to reduce the security risk profile of an organization.
What is the Importance of the Vulnerability Management Process?
Vulnerabilities are growing in number. Due to the large number of devices used across a network, several endpoints open the network to threats and more sophisticated attacks. In such a scenario, it is crucial to deal proactively with network vulnerabilities. This is a better step compared to managing the threats after an attack has already taken place.
The constant patches and updates further establish the need for vulnerability management. The hardware and software vendors frequently push out updates, but these turn harmful when employees click to ignore the pop-ups. Managing all these updates is a full-time job for an IT security team.
Additionally, more advanced and customized threats are spreading, implying that attackers actively search for vulnerabilities in their target networks. These give them more chances for successful entry and exploitation of your network.
Organizations increasingly realize the benefits of cybersecurity. As a result, many industries have regulations requiring companies to have a vulnerability management process. These regulations motivate businesses to create a strategy to fight potential threats.
What are the Vulnerability Management Process Steps?
Here are the four critical steps involved in the vulnerability management process, explained in detail:
Step 1 - Identifying Vulnerabilities
At the core of a typical vulnerability management process is vulnerability scanning. A vulnerability scan moves through the following four stages:
- Ping the network-accessible systems and send them TCP/UDP packers for scanning
- Identify the open ports and services that run on the scanned systems
- Remotely log in to systems to gather detailed system information
- Correlate the system information with known vulnerabilities
Vulnerability scanners can identify a range of systems running on a network. The recognized systems are probed for specific attributes such as open ports, operating systems, user accounts, installed software, system configuration, file system structure, etc. The gathered information is used to associate the known vulnerabilities to scanned systems. For this purpose, a database consisting of a list of publicly known vulnerabilities is required.
Configuring the vulnerability scans properly is an integral part of a vulnerability management solution. The scanners can disrupt the systems and networks they scan. However, you can schedule the scans to run during off hours if the available network bandwidth becomes limited during an organization’s peak hours.
Step 2 - Evaluating Vulnerabilities
Once the vulnerabilities are identified, one needs to evaluate them so that the potential risks are dealt with correctly and per an organization’s risk management strategy. The vulnerability evaluation process involves providing different risk ratings and scores for vulnerabilities, referred to as the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) scores.
These scores help point out the vulnerabilities that organizations should focus on first. However, several other factors determine the actual risk posed by any specific vulnerability. Some of the common questions to consider are:
- Is the vulnerability a true or false positive?
- Can this vulnerability be directly exploited?
- How challenging can it be to exploit this vulnerability?
How long has the vulnerability been on the network? What impact would the exploitation of the vulnerability have on the organization?
Like most security tools, vulnerability scanners are not 100% perfect. The chances of false positives are greater than 0. That is why; performing vulnerability validation with penetration testing tools and techniques helps eliminate false positives.
This helps organizations focus their attention on dealing with real vulnerabilities. Vulnerability validation exercises are often eye-opening experiences for organizations that undermine the risk quotient of the vulnerability or assume they are secure.
Step 3 - Treating Vulnerabilities
Once a particular vulnerability is considered and declared a risk, the following step is prioritizing how to treat that vulnerability. There are three different ways of treating vulnerabilities that include:
- Remediation involves completely fixing or patching the vulnerability so you cannot exploit it. This is an ideal treatment option that organizations look for.
- Mitigation involves lessening the likelihood or impact of exploiting a vulnerability. This is necessary when a proper patch or fix is unavailable for a particular vulnerability. The option is best-suited when an organization needs some time to remediate a specific vulnerability.
- Acceptance is taking no action to fix or lessen the likelihood of exploiting a specific vulnerability. This is a justified solution when the vulnerability is low-risk and the cost of fixing the vulnerability is higher than the cost incurred by the organization to remediate the vulnerability.
Vulnerability management solutions offer recommended remediation techniques. Sometimes, a remediation recommendation is not the optimal way to remediate vulnerability; in those cases, a company’s security team, system administrators, and system owners must determine the ideal remediation approach.
Remediation can be as straightforward as applying a readily-available software patch or, sometimes, as complex as replacing a range of physical servers across an organization’s network.
Once the remediation is executed and complete, it is optimal to run another vulnerability scan to ensure that the vulnerability has been fully resolved.
However, not all vulnerabilities have to be fixed. An example is when an organization’s scanner has identified vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player on their computers. Still, they have entirely disabled the same from being used in their web browsers and other client applications. Then, these vulnerabilities can be considered mitigated to a great extent by compensating control.
Step 4 - Reporting Vulnerabilities
As the final step of the process, organizations must perform regular and continuous vulnerability assessments to keep track of the speed and efficiency of their vulnerability management program.
Vulnerability management solutions offer several options for visualizing and exporting vulnerability scan data using several customizable dashboards and reports. This helps the IT team identify and decide upon the remediation technique that will fix most vulnerabilities with the least effort.
At the same time, the security team can monitor the vulnerability trends while the organizations can abide by the compliance and regulatory requirements.
What Vulnerability Management Solutions are Available?
Vulnerability management is critical and complex. To simplify the tasks for organizations, there are commercial solutions. The solutions are meant to automate the vulnerability management process.
Some focus entirely on vulnerability assessment, some perform scanning only, while others seek to provide comprehensive coverage of the overall vulnerability management process.
You will also find security solutions that go beyond offering vulnerability management. They add value by integrating other security functionalities, including asset discovery, data classification, SIEM and log data correlation, intrusion detection, privilege access management, threat detection and response, and compliance auditing and reporting.
Takeaways on Vulnerability Management Process
Cyber threats and attacks are evolving just as organizations add new devices, networks, cloud services, and applications to their environments.
With these changes, there are risks of new holes being opened in your network, enabling attackers to slip in.
Every time you get a new employee, customer, or affiliate partner, you create new opportunities and expose your organization to new threats. Protecting your organization from these threats makes vulnerability management indispensable.
With the vulnerability management process and solutions, you can stay one step ahead of the attackers.