What Is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is a process that enables organizations to identify, assess and prioritize security risks across their IT systems and develop plans to mitigate those risks. It is a critical component of any cybersecurity strategy. This article will give you a comprehensive definition of vulnerability management and explain why organizations need it to stay safe from cyberattacks.

What is vulnerability management?

Vulnerability management involves identifying, prioritizing and mitigating hardware and software vulnerabilities in an organization’s endpoints, devices and all computer systems. It aims to reduce the risk of cyberattacks by keeping systems up to date and properly configured. It’s a continuous cycle that includes identifying potential weaknesses in systems and assessing the likelihood of exploitation.

An integral part of vulnerability management is patch management. Patch management involves applying updates or patches to fix known vulnerabilities. System configuration management is another crucial aspect of vulnerability management that ensures devices and software continue functioning properly and do not become backdoors for costly breaches.

What is a vulnerability in cybersecurity?

In IT, vulnerabilities are systems or software code weaknesses that cybercriminals exploit to gain access to an organization. Vulnerabilities can be in the hardware or software and caused by poor design, coding errors or configuration issues. Attackers exploit these vulnerabilities to access your sensitive company data, execute malicious code on a system, trigger Denial of Service (DoS) or cause other forms of cyber harm.

Technicians must assess each vulnerability carefully to spot the critical ones and address them first. Companies with lax security practices often learn about vulnerabilities in their IT infrastructure only after it gets exploited by cybercriminals or security researchers. By then, the damage has been done. Therefore, organizations must have a robust security program that includes regular vulnerability scanning and patching. In 2022, over 22,500 new common IT vulnerabilities and exposures were discovered — the highest reported annual figure to date.

Zero-day vulnerabilities are one of the most common causes of successful cyberattacks, and finding one allows hackers to have a field day. A zero-day vulnerability is a flaw in a network or software that hasn’t been patched or for which a patch isn’t available. The software or device vendor may or may not be aware of this flaw. If a hacker identifies it before a good Samaritan, the software vendor has zero days to fix it. Hence the term zero-day vulnerability.

Users often incorrectly use vulnerability interchangeably with — threat and risk — other terminologies from the security field. However, there are differences between them:

  • Vulnerability: A vulnerability is a weakness in an endpoint or a system that can get exploited.
  • Threat: Threats are potential attacks that could exploit a vulnerability. For example, an attacker can exploit a vulnerability in a web application to gain access to sensitive data, cause damage and business disruption, or launch a ransomware attack.
  • Risk: Risks are the potential consequences of an attack that exploits a vulnerability. For example, if an attacker gains access to sensitive data through a web application vulnerability, the risk is that this data can be leaked publicly or used to commit fraud.

What are some examples of common vulnerabilities?

Vulnerabilities can arise for several reasons and seriously threaten an organization’s security. Some of the most common vulnerabilities include:

Unpatched software: This is the most common vulnerability and is often the result of organizations not keeping their software up to date. Therefore, companies must automate their patch management process to ensure timely patching.

Poorly configured systems: Another common vulnerability is poorly configured systems. Poor software or hardware installation procedures are the leading cause of configuration problems, as is changing the settings of these systems without following proper care and precautions. Configuration issues are common in companies adopting a digital transformation or significantly upgrading their IT infrastructures. Whenever possible, it’s best to implement these changes under the guidance of a security expert.

Weak credentials: Even your toddler can crack “Password123,” so imagine how easy it will be for cybercriminals to do so. Cybercriminals can break simple username and password combinations through brute force attacks, enabling them to carry out their malicious plans.

Insufficient security controls: Another vulnerability often seen in today’s IT landscape is inadequate security controls. Organizations become vulnerable when they do not implement adequate security measures or fail to keep up with changing threats.

Why do we need vulnerability management?

Vulnerability management is an integral part of overall IT security for any organization. In today’s IT landscape, if businesses do not exercise enough care, they can fall prey to constantly evolving threats and their increasingly malicious nature. Vulnerability management works as a protective shield in such an environment. It helps IT professionals identify, assess and remediate vulnerabilities in systems and networks before attackers can exploit them. Thus, it helps ensure the integrity and security of systems and data.

Organizations should take a proactive approach to vulnerability management, which includes regular scanning and assessment of systems and networks and implementing controls and mitigation measures to reduce the risk of vulnerabilities being exploited. This is especially important given the growing number of sophisticated cyberthreats that exist today. Taking these steps can help to protect your organization from costly downtime, data loss and theft, ultimately helping to keep your business running smoothly.

What are the benefits of vulnerability management?

Vulnerability management helps organizations reduce the risk of exploitation and minimize the impact of a cyberattack. There are many benefits to vulnerability management, including the following:

  • Reduced risk of exploitation: Organizations can reduce their exposure to potential attacks by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities regularly and on time.
  • Minimized impact of attacks: Organizations can limit the damage caused by successful attacks by patching or mitigating vulnerabilities on time.
  • Improved security posture: By proactively managing vulnerabilities, organizations can enhance their security posture and ward off future threats.
  • Compliance: Many compliance frameworks require organizations to implement vulnerability management processes. By undertaking it, companies can earn brownie points from compliance auditors and their clients while staying secure.

The vulnerability management process can be performed manually or automatically. Automation is becoming more popular among companies due to its speed and ability to identify and fix vulnerabilities in real time.

What are the challenges of vulnerability management?

Managing vulnerabilities is a complex process that requires asset inventory, threat intelligence, patch management, etc., making it a challenging task even for security professionals with years of experience.

One of the biggest challenges in vulnerability management is staying abreast of the growing number of attack vectors. What’s an attack vector? An attack vector refers to any method or pathway a hacker may use to penetrate, infiltrate or compromise the IT infrastructure of the target company. Attack vectors are constantly evolving, making it hard for security professionals to stay ahead of the game. An IT professional must be able to predict cybercriminals’ next move and understand how they will exploit new and old vulnerabilities.

Another challenge is dealing with the geographical dispersal of the workforce. As more people work remotely, it’s getting harder to manage and patch vulnerabilities centrally and on time. This can open organizations to attacks if vulnerabilities remain unpatched for a long time.

Furthermore, new technologies introduce new vulnerabilities that must be managed as they emerge. As soon as one vulnerability is patched, another appears. It’s a never-ending game of cat-and-mouse that can be frustrating and time-consuming. Automating vulnerability management using advanced tools can help technicians identify and patch vulnerabilities in real time and beat cybercriminals at their own game.

What is the vulnerability management lifecycle?

The vulnerability management lifecycle is a series of steps and processes that security professionals follow to identify and fix weaknesses and reduce the risk of exploitation. The lifecycle is a continuous process and can be broadly categorized into five main steps.

What are the FIVE steps of vulnerability management?

The lifecycle process can vary company-to-company, based on individual needs and requirements, but in most cases, it broadly adheres to this five-step model. This structure guarantees that your vulnerability management lifecycle delivers results by uncovering and remediating even the most obscure security flaws.

Step 1: Identify 

The identification phase involves scanning systems and networks to identify potential vulnerabilities. This is the first phase of the cycle, during which organizations discover and document vulnerabilities in their systems. You can do this through manual inspection or automated scanning using a network-based or agent-based vulnerability scanner tool.

Step 2: Evaluate

Once vulnerabilities are identified, they need to be assessed to determine the severity and risk associated with them. This information is then used to prioritize which vulnerabilities should be addressed first.

Step 3: Remediate

Once prioritized, it’s time to start remediating the vulnerabilities. This usually involves patching software or upgrading systems. It could also include implementing workarounds or mitigations. It’s important to test the fixes in a controlled environment before rolling them out widely. Sometimes, applying patches can create functional issues rendering your organization’s systems inoperable and leading to downtime. It can also give cybercriminals the opportunity to make their move.

Step 4: Verify

It is crucial to verify that the remediation and mitigation steps work and that the changes do not impact the device performance in any way so as not to cause downtime. Additionally, it’s a good time to identify best practices and improvements to be made to the process in the future.

Step 5: Report

It isn’t enough to provide top-class IT service in today’s increasingly competitive business environment. You must also demonstrate the value of your work through consistent reporting. The vulnerability assessment and management report should detail the number of vulnerabilities identified and remediated, the process of conducting the assessment and remediation, its scope and the improvements carried out. The report should provide intelligence that’ll help improve the process.

What is the scope of vulnerability management?

The scope of vulnerability management covers all assets in an organization’s environment connected to a network and vulnerable to attacks. This includes workstations, servers, routers, switches, firewalls and other devices that can act as a backdoor for cybercriminals. Vulnerability management also covers software, such as operating systems, applications and databases. The following activities fall under vulnerability management:

  • IT discovery and inventory: It involves identifying and cataloging all the hardware and software assets in an organization to understand what needs to be protected and therefore make it easier to identify potential vulnerabilities.
  • Vulnerability scanning: Vulnerability scanning is the process of identifying security weaknesses in systems and applications.
  • Network monitoring: Network monitoring involves continuously monitoring network traffic for unusual or suspicious activity.
  • Patch management: Patch management involves keeping software up to date with the latest security fixes.
  • Endpoint management: Endpoint management refers to the security of devices that connect to a network, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets.
  • Configuration management: Configuration management includes maintaining an up-to-date inventory of all software and hardware assets and ensuring they are properly configured.
  • Security awareness training: Security awareness training helps employees understand how to identify and protect against potential threats.
  • Identity and access management: Identity and access management determines who has access to which resources within an organization.

Automate vulnerability management best practices with Kaseya

A solid patch management policy is at the heart of a world-class vulnerability management process. With Kaseya VSA, you can build one of the most advanced and effective patch management policies to enhance your organization’s security. VSA will help you automate the process to help you eliminate risks in real time and secure all Windows, Mac and third-party applications at a speed that will make it hard for cybercriminals to keep up. To experience top-of-the-line patching capabilities and advanced security, schedule a demo of VSA today.

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