In today's digital age, organizations face an ever-increasing number of cyber threats. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities in an organization's infrastructure, which can result in costly security breaches, loss of sensitive data, and damage to the organization's reputation.
A reactive approach to mitigating infrastructure vulnerabilities - or playing “vulnerability whack-a-mole” - is both unsustainable and ineffective. Implementing a formal vulnerability management program provides proactive, sustainable, and effective measures to defend against cyberattacks through the mitigation of vulnerabilities of all types, not just missing patches.
What Makes a Great Vulnerability Management Program?
At a high level, a vulnerability management program is a framework to streamline identifying, verifying, prioritizing, and remediating vulnerabilities in an organization's infrastructure.
While some organizations may have existing vulnerability management processes in place, it’s not uncommon to find that these processes have not been documented or formalized to enable an effective and comprehensive framework. This can create difficulties in aligning key stakeholders through each stage of the vulnerability management process.
Along with process improvements, a formal vulnerability management program is essential for several additional reasons:
Reduction Management of Organizational Risk: By methodically identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, an organization can reduce the risk of cyber-attacks and minimize the potential impact of security breaches. This gives an organization a proactive measure to defend against attackers rather than reacting to an attack after the fact.
Compliance: Many industries have regulatory and compliance requirements that organizations must meet. A vulnerability management program can ensure successful regulatory or framework audits, such as SOC 2.
Business Reputation: Implementing a vulnerability program can improve stakeholder trust and public reputation by demonstrating a commitment to security and protecting sensitive information. It can also increase business operation “up-time” by defending against cyber-attacks that hinder operations.
Defined Roles and Responsibilities: The program level-sets expectations of each stakeholder involved in the vulnerability management process helping to. This clarity helps to ensure proper alignment and execution of vulnerability management.
High Level Vulnerability Management Process Overview:
A strong vulnerability management program, in alignment with NIST CSF best practices, consists of five phases: assessing, prioritizing, remediating, verification, and monitoring. Metrics are a critical method of measuring the success of the organization’s vulnerability management program
Regular Vulnerability Assessment: Organizations should conduct regular vulnerability assessments to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities that your organization faces. Traditional vulnerability assessments tend to use scanning tools, but these are often insufficient and do not account for emerging and zero-day vulnerabilities. Having an intelligence analyst can also help achieve real-time identification and analysis of vulnerabilities that fall outside of the scope of vulnerability scanners,
Prioritization of Vulnerabilities: When prioritizing vulnerabilities, a company should consider several risk-based factors such as the severity rating of the vulnerability and the likelihood and impact of a successful attack. These factors will vary depending on the risk tolerance, industry specific compliance regulations, business objective, and network configuration of each organization.
Remediation of Vulnerabilities: The organization should take steps to address the vulnerabilities that have been identified based on their risk score. This may involve implementing patches or other compensating controls to mitigate the vulnerabilities within a certain timeline.
Verification of Remediation: Once the vulnerabilities have been addressed, the organization must verify that the remediation was effective. This can be done by rescanning the environment or conducting an internal penetration test.
Continuous Monitoring: An ideal vulnerability management process is ongoing. Organizations must continuously monitor their technology infrastructure for new vulnerabilities and potential risks. As the organization grows and adds tools, people, and technologies, the vulnerability management program should reflect those changes.
Metrics: Using the right metrics is essential for measuring how effective your organization’s vulnerability management program is at addressing the vulnerabilities that matter most. Metrics provide valuable insight on areas that are effective and areas that need improvement.
Let’s Get to the Point
In a time where cybercrime is rapidly increasing, organizations should make vulnerability management a focal point to protect against cyber threats and minimize the risk in a way that is sustainable and effective.
Vulnerability management is not a one size fits all program but rather is meant to adapt to your organization’s capabilities and resources. Effective implementation can be challenging for organizations – particularly for those with limited resources, that have complex IT environments, that are resistance to change, or organizations that lack awareness about the importance of vulnerability management from a business and compliance perspective.