What Is Vulnerability Management? Definition, Process Steps, Benefits and More

Vulnerability management is a cybersecurity strategy that enables organizations to identify, prioritize and mitigate security risks across their IT environment on an ongoing basis. Without vulnerability management, businesses are susceptible to security attacks that can prove to be very costly.

Through the effective implementation of vulnerability management processes, businesses can address security issues proactively while staying compliant with industry and government standards. Some common vulnerability management best practices include conducting regular IT scans, patching systems on time and educating employees on security protocols.

You might agree that vulnerability management is an important yet time-consuming job that IT technicians do not have enough time for. Kaseya Network Operations Center (NOC) services can be helpful in this regard. By outsourcing all your vulnerability management tasks to our NOC services, you can streamline and simplify your IT operations dramatically while reducing the workload on your technicians. But before we get into this, let’s first review vulnerability management best practices, benefits, challenges and more. Then, we’ll take a look at how you can outsource your vulnerability management tasks to our NOC services.

What is vulnerability management?

The role of vulnerability management is to actively look for, identify and patch all vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT environment before a threat actor exploits them. These vulnerabilities can be found in hardware devices, endpoints, software and even company networks — basically all components of an IT infrastructure.

At any given point, there are multiple vulnerabilities plaguing a company’s IT environment. Part of the vulnerability management process is not only identifying vulnerabilities but also prioritizing and mitigating them based on their severity. While vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying and assessing potential weaknesses in a network, vulnerability management is the process of mitigating or eliminating those weaknesses.

Some of the common vulnerabilities are weak passwords, outdated software, unpatched systems and misconfigured networks. An integral part of vulnerability management is patch management. Patch management involves applying updates or patches to fix known software 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?

Vulnerabilities, or weaknesses in hardware devices or software code, serve as opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit and gain access to organizations. These weaknesses may result from poor design, coding errors or configuration issues. Cyberattackers take advantage of these vulnerabilities to infiltrate sensitive company data, execute malicious code on systems, initiate Denial of Service (DoS) attacks or cause other forms of cyber harm.

Companies with lax security practices often learn about vulnerabilities in their IT infrastructure only after they are exploited, which can lead to serious financial losses, reputational damage and regulatory fines. Zero-day vulnerabilities are one of the most common causes of successful cyberattacks, allowing hackers to have a field day should they find one.

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 does, the software vendor has zero days to fix it, hence the term zero-day vulnerability.

To mitigate zero-day and other risks, companies should build a robust vulnerability management plan that includes regular audits and reviews of their systems. As of the first week of 2024, internet users worldwide discovered 612 new common IT security vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). The highest reported annual figure was recorded in 2023 — over 29,000.

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 be 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.
  • 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.

What is the difference between vulnerability management and vulnerability assessment?

A vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying, quantifying and prioritizing the vulnerabilities in a system or application. It involves scanning the system or application, analyzing the results of the scan and recommending appropriate actions. This step is crucial to identify weaknesses in a system that attackers can exploit. It also provides data that can be used to prioritize remediation efforts and to develop strategies for mitigating the risks associated with the vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability management then helps to ensure that any identified vulnerabilities are patched in a timely manner and that appropriate security controls are put in place to reduce the risk of a successful attack. Doing so protects an organization’s data and systems from malicious actors while helping them stay compliant with applicable laws and regulations. It’s good practice for organizations to regularly review their vulnerability management process and update their security controls accordingly.

Why is vulnerability management important?

In today’s increasingly distributed IT environments, there is a surge in the number and types of endpoints connected to a network at any given time. Add the growing popularity of remote work and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to the mix, and IT professionals now have a larger attack surface to manage. A more complex IT environment means more potential entry points for malicious actors, who are devising more damaging, malicious, and hard-to-detect cyberthreats by the day.

If businesses do not exercise enough care, they can fall prey to these threats easily. Vulnerability management acts as a proactive defensive mechanism protecting organizations from the damage caused by cyberattacks. This entails regular scanning and assessment of systems and networks, coupled with the implementation of controls and mitigation measures, all aimed at minimizing the risk of vulnerabilities being exploited. By taking these steps, businesses can fortify themselves against costly downtime, data loss and theft, ultimately ensuring the seamless operation of their business.

If vulnerability management is becoming an added burden for you and your technicians, explore our case study detailing how Crystal Mountain, a family resort nestled in northwest Michigan, effectively utilized Kaseya NOC Services to not only unlock operational efficiency but also optimize workloads cost-effectively.

What is a vulnerability management system?

A vulnerability management system consists of processes and tools used to manage vulnerabilities and minimize the risk of cyberattacks, such as ransomware, data breaches and phishing attacks. It is a five-step process that we have detailed in the next section. By following these steps, businesses can better protect their data and systems from malicious actors.

What are the steps in the vulnerability management lifecycle?

The lifecycle process can vary from company to company, based on individual needs and requirements. However, 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.

  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.
  2. Evaluate/Classify: 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.
  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.
  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.
  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 will help improve the process.

What are the main elements of a vulnerability management process?

The scope of vulnerability management covers all assets in an organization’s environment connected to a network and which are 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.

What are the challenges of vulnerability management?

Managing vulnerabilities is a complex process that requires asset inventory, threat intelligence, patch management and more., 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. 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 might exploit new and old vulnerabilities.

Another challenge is dealing with the geographical dispersal of the workforce. With more people working remotely, managing and patching vulnerabilities centrally and on time gets increasingly harder. This can open organizations up 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 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 maintenance: 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.

How to get started with vulnerability management

A vulnerability management program should be tailored to a company’s specific needs. It should be regularly monitored and updated and companies should carry out regular audits to ensure that their vulnerability management program is effective. However, keeping the following three best practices in mind will help you get in the mindset needed to establish an effective vulnerability management program and take a more targeted approach.

  • Unified management: A platform that provides IT teams with a comprehensive view of their overall security posture, making it easier to identify and respond to threats in a timely manner. A unified RMM solution like Kaseya VSA allows IT professionals to streamline workflows and efficiently navigate through different stages of vulnerability management. For example, installing, deploying, updating, and patching software often require different workstreams, which tremendously increases the load on busy IT professionals. By outsourcing vulnerability tasks like patching and monitoring to Kaseya NOC services, you can focus your energy on strategic tasks that require your expertise, while ensuring better security for your clients and end users.
  • Comprehensive visibility: Jumping between various solutions to get complete visibility into the IT environment is not only far from ideal but can be detrimental to the security of an organization. It can severely slow down threat detection and mitigation processes, making it more difficult for IT professionals to manage vulnerabilities effectively. The solution to this problem is investing in an integrated solution that lets you manage everything from a single pane of glass, making it easy to aggregate the visibility of the vulnerability landscape relevant to the specific environment under management.
  • Scalable automation: By automating repetitive tasks, organizations can simplify the vulnerability management process, reduce manual errors and free up resources to focus on more strategic tasks. Being able to scale the automation to cover more endpoints, devices, and networks under the vulnerability management program enables organizations to systematically and rapidly address security vulnerabilities across a larger and more diverse attack surface. This scalability empowers security teams to manage a growing number of assets without a proportional increase in manual effort. Additionally, automation can help reduce the cost of security operations.

For more information on how to get started with vulnerability management, check out our eBook — Vulnerability Mitigation: Securing Your Infrastructure.

How can Kaseya help you with vulnerability management?

You can now put your vulnerability management concerns to rest with the help of Kaseya’s NOC services. By outsourcing essential vulnerability management tasks such as patching and monitoring to our NOC center, you can enjoy timely remediation of issues, eliminate network downtime and nip cyberattacks in the bud.

Our dedicated team of experts will monitor your IT environment 24/7, identifying and resolving issues before they cause major disruptions. By leveraging our NOC services, you can enjoy a robust vulnerability management plan that will protect your data and assets from malicious actors, ensure compliance with the latest security standards and enhance your IT performance.

Learn more about Kaseya NOC Services and how it can help you establish a vulnerability management program.

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