Information assurance vulnerability management refers to the practice of identifying, reporting and cataloguing security vulnerabilities as part of any cybersecurity program.
Due to the damage that data breaches can do to businesses, finding and correcting IT vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis is of utmost importance. A successful vulnerability management program involves more than just IT departments alone.
At present, vulnerabilities present a constant danger in the cyber ecosystem. Attackers are constantly looking for exploitable weaknesses which they can use to exploit data theft, infiltrate systems or disrupt business operations. With new technology emerging all of the time and default credentials and settings changing frequently in different work environments, security teams must remain vigilant to detect and address threats in order to reduce vulnerability surfaces and secure critical assets.
Security teams need to routinely scan networks, systems and applications in order to identify vulnerabilities. Vulnerability management tools help automate this process while providing reports detailing all findings that can then be prioritized and remedied as part of prioritizing business goals and priorities. With such an approach in place, security teams can more quickly detect and address vulnerabilities with increased efficiency, decreased risk exposure and support of business goals.
Many vendors already provide metrics for assessing vulnerabilities; however, it’s essential that contextual information also be considered during this process in order to more accurately determine which vulnerabilities are the most dangerous and how they could be exploited – this ensures that vulnerabilities are rated fairly and accurately and addressed prioritarily.
Considerations may include how easy a vulnerability would be to exploit, what systems it affects, the type of damage that could occur and more. A cross-functional team should conduct this evaluation, comprised of not just vulnerability management team members but also security and information assurance teams as well as stakeholders from legal, finance, public relations or any other department as necessary.
At this step, a comprehensive report should outline which vulnerabilities were found in each protected asset, when and how they were discovered, potential exploitation by threat actors, remediation plans for more serious vulnerabilities (in particular with regards to attacks possible via exploits), as well as plans for their remediation. When possible a proof-of-concept should also be created demonstrating these attacks or exploits being carried out to show just how serious these flaws can be exploited by attackers.
Documenting and sharing results with all stakeholders is the final step of an effective vulnerability management program, to ensure everyone understands how their protections stand within an organization and works collaboratively towards improving them. Not only can this prevent data breaches or cybersecurity incidents from occurring, but also allows the vulnerability management team to demonstrate tangible return on investment for their work in terms of showing clear returns to stakeholders or project teams.
Effective vulnerability management programs depend upon being able to prioritize which vulnerabilities should be fixed first, otherwise security teams could spend considerable time patching low-risk issues while more serious ones go unattended. Prioritization can be performed manually (taking many hours), using technology which collects and automatically prioritizes vulnerabilities but requires your team to maintain a dashboard, or through managed services that provide this service and also provide information regarding each vulnerability’s associated risk profile.
Prioritizing vulnerabilities often requires using the CVSS score, with each vulnerability assigned a number that represents its level of danger. While this method provides a useful starting point, more factors could influence how attractive or weaponizable a vulnerability might be for attackers and exploited by them.
These additional factors include asset value, which determines the impact if an asset is exploited and how much damage could occur; weaponization status – that is whether or not malicious actors have successfully weaponized its vulnerabilities; business context status (ie: importance to organization/regulatory compliance requirements of affected assets), which helps you identify vulnerabilities critical to business processes so they are addressed quickly and on schedule. This data helps identify vulnerabilities critical for successful operation and provides timely resolution options.
As vulnerabilities emerge at an ever-increasing pace, security teams often find it challenging to remain up-to-date with them all. With so many vulnerabilities being discovered daily, it can be challenging for your security teams to identify and address the most severe ones which provide attackers access to sensitive or confidential data.
Given limited resources, it’s essential that you develop an efficient process to quickly identify and remediate vulnerabilities quickly and efficiently. To do so, it is necessary to measure each vulnerability’s impact as well as understand how it’s being targeted by malicious actors using information like threat landscape analysis or Exploit Prediction Scoring System (EPSS). You also must take into account complexity, cost and effort required in fixing each one in order to balance your priorities with budget requirements.
As vulnerabilities emerge daily, you cannot afford to take an all or nothing approach to managing them. Therefore, it is crucial that vulnerabilities be prioritized based on their potential impact and likelihood to be exploited, in order to create effective countermeasures which reduce the risks posed by weaknesses that gain traction with threat actors.
Vulnerabilities can be defined as vulnerabilities that allow threat actors to exploit in order to gain entry to your networks and systems, whether via scans, security research, threat intelligence or another source. Once identified, vulnerabilities should be prioritized so they can be resolved as quickly as possible; depending on their severity this may require mitigation as well.
Apply patches, upgrade software and implement compensating controls to lower risk associated with vulnerabilities. It could also involve taking systems offline temporarily until an updated patch becomes available; or devising work-around solutions until an updated solution can be deployed.
Once your mitigations are in place, it’s essential that you check whether vulnerabilities have truly been mitigated. This can be accomplished by conducting a vulnerability scan against your systems or using Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions to check for compromised credentials. Once vulnerabilities have been verified as mitigated successfully, monitoring must take place so they no longer being exploited and remain safe from attack.
Once your foundational security needs are taken care of, the next step should be implementing an holistic vulnerability management strategy that incorporates scanning and prioritization tools with threat detection and response, endpoint protection, device control, etc. to deliver security capabilities your employees and customers require and protect data safely. To learn more about how an integrated vulnerability management solution can protect your business download the Falcon Spotlight data sheet which presents an analysis of top threats to your organization as well as top 5 ways to counter them – an excellent free resource!
Once vulnerabilities have been identified and prioritized, they must be repaired or patched accordingly. This may involve installing patches or taking other mitigation steps such as taking an asset offline from the network to fix vulnerabilities; depending on their type. Once remediation has begun, however, it’s essential to confirm that any patch or other mitigation measure really did work by testing again later to see if that vulnerability was still exploitable once back online.
Automated vulnerability management systems come to the rescue in this regard. Using threat intelligence information and vulnerability databases, these tools use signature search technology to look for vulnerabilities specific to each environment; additionally they can analyze scan, penetration test or firewall log data in order to discover any potential weaknesses that exist within a network environment.
Documenting vulnerabilities when they are identified is also crucial, and using IT documentation software solutions can make this task simpler and faster. Documenting is a vital element of vulnerability management as it allows teams to track progress made towards fixing vulnerabilities while also helping non-technical employees understand risks associated with their company systems, thus improving accountability.
Once vulnerabilities are identified, it’s essential to evaluate them to assess the severity and risk they represent to an organization. This evaluation can be accomplished via penetration tests and vulnerability scanners as well as databases such as National Vulnerability Database (NVD), which is maintained by Department of Homeland Security, NCCIC, and US-CERT and allows teams to decide which vulnerabilities should take priority for remediation in order to mitigate attacks on organizations.
Final records should include an exhaustive log of all vulnerabilities discovered, their resolutions and outcomes. This will allow the team to learn from experiences, enhance processes and methods for resolving vulnerabilities while optimizing synergies and outcomes. Furthermore, sharing these records with stakeholders such as customers allows them to be aware how the vulnerability affects their systems and how it is being addressed.