Keep Your Security Posture Strong With Vulnerability Management

In this article we will describe what vulnerabilities are, and best practices for managing them.

What is a vulnerability?

Imagine a scenario where you’re about to pull out of your driveway and in an attempt to clasp seatbelt of your car, you realize that the clasp won’t lock, after several attempts you decide to take the car anyways since your destination is a department store just a few miles away.

The faulty seatbelt is a vulnerability and as the driver, the decision to take the car has opened you to several risks such as being arrested or severe injury as a result of an accident.

In cybersecurity, a vulnerability can be defined as loopholes found in different kinds of technology such as networks, endpoints, servers, applications, and the cloud.

Vulnerability Management

Vulnerability management is a process that entails a series of proactive security practices to ensure the identification, assessment, and remediation of vulnerabilities in a system. In an organization where different assets are required to achieve business objectives, securing the bulk of devices, servers, web applications and users on the network can prove to be a gruesome task. The goal of vulnerability management is to provide a strategy to overcome all the security issues that may disrupt business operations.

Vulnerability Management Process

When a house is built, doors, windows, and gates are used as safeguards against unwanted entry by robbers and burglars. This does not mean that these criminals cannot find ways to gain access despite these security measures. Taking extra actions like constant checks for broken locks, using CCTV cameras, and employing security guards may be required to ensure long-lasting protection of property, this is what vulnerability management seeks to achieve in an organization.

There are 6 different stages that are required for successful vulnerability management. These stages constitute cyclical processes designed to keep vulnerabilities in check. They are:

1. Discover

You can’t protect what you do not know, so before a vulnerability management process can be followed through, an organization needs to. First of all, create an inventory of all the assets across the network along with host details like operating systems and open port services. Here, the aim is to create a baseline of all the internal and external assets within the network.

2. Prioritize

After you have identified all assets that belong to your organization, the next step is to prioritize the assets based on criticality to business function. This is necessary because different assets have varying level of importance to the business. For instance, a core banking database server is of more value to business operations than a HR enrollment database.

3. Assess

Next is the assessment stage. Here, assets are scanned, and an in-depth analysis of the vulnerabilities is conducted. To achieve a seamless assessment phase, an organization should have a risk management strategy to tackle the findings gathered, it can be a baseline profile that serves as a benchmark or point of reference to gauge the risk for proper elimination. The following are ways in which the risk vulnerabilities pose can be managed:

  • Accept the risk: An organization can choose to accept a risk when the cost of fixing the vulnerability is more than its impact on the organization’s operations. No action is taken to prevent future occurrences.

  • Avoid the risk: This means that an organization completely eliminates every possibility that may result to risks by refusing to participate in certain activities or forbidding use of particular systems and services. A good example is Microsoft stopping its support for Internet explorer because of its crash-prone status.

  • Mitigate the risk: This approach is used for high-risk vulnerabilities that require urgent action. It is an attempt to fix or lower the impact of the vulnerabilities found to reduce or prevent exploitation by bad actors.

  • Transfer the risk: In instances where external vendors are solicited to provide a service, the responsibility will lie on the vendor to do whatever is best to tackle the risk a vulnerability creates. This implies that the organization is dissolved of its impact and will transfer the risk to said third party.

4. Report

The fourth phase is where all the information gathered concerning discovery, threat impact, and solution of the vulnerabilities are documented. Typically, a risk register is formulated to keep track of the status of each vulnerability and to keep a record of all the activities during remediation.

5. Remediate

This is the action phase where implementation of the strategy to fix all vulnerabilities is carried out. This involves tweaking configurations to more secure options, disallowing certain defective permissions, developing stricter access controls, adhering to more secure security policies, blocking problematic activities, and deploying patch management. Patch management is the process of deploying updates to fix defects or bugs in the operating systems of devices, web applications, and software.

6. Verify

After all vulnerabilities have been adequately remediated, there is a need to ensure those vulnerabilities have been closed out. The verification stage is for double-checking and following up with the success of the remediation plan. This involves constant audits and reassessment.

Importance of Vulnerability Management

  • To enable maximum visibility into a network to ensure it stays always guarded.
  • To ensure compliance with adequate laws and standards.
  • To provide insights into the internal security posture of an organization’s systems.
  • To hold all stakeholders accountable for any actions that may affect the safety of the organization.
  • For early detection and analysis of leaks or breaches before damage or loss of data occur.

Vulnerability Management best practices

1. Create a vulnerability management plan

Establishing a concrete plan that works to enable an all-encompassing insight into the IT assets in a system or network ensures that potential risks are tackled immediately after detection. A functional vulnerability management tactic comprises the following security controls:

  • People: this is a team of qualified IT professionals responsible for executing the vulnerability management plan and communicating the findings to all stakeholders in an easy-to-understand report.

  • Process: this is the ability to create a productive vulnerability management strategy through a proactive analytic process that generates accurate results.

  • Technology: these are the technical tools used to accomplish a successful vulnerability management strategy. The right technical tool will execute its objectives rapidly and accurately, leaving zero room for errors.

2. Allocate suitable tools to manage vulnerabilities

Use the right feature-rich scanning tools that can discover, evaluate, report, and mitigate flaws in a network system and gives little room for errors or false reports. When choosing a vulnerability management tool, its usability, technology, false-positive rate, and reporting metrics must be critically considered.

3. Run network scans from time to time

This is to ensure all vulnerabilities are corrected before they become infiltration entry for hackers. Taking a proactive approach to detecting vulnerabilities gives little room for security breaches.

4. Create an incident response plan

Preparing a bounce-back plan in anticipation of a possible breach by categorizing vulnerabilities according to their consequences and prioritizing them by their severity can make or break a system in the event of a breach.

5. Educate all stakeholders

Communicating possible threats to ensure adequate precautions are taken to prevent reoccurrence in the future is key to reducing the impact of human error.

6. Documentation

Keeping a record of all the security breaches and the steps taken to rectify them gives engineers insights and referencing materials to better understand future occurrences. Documentation is also important to keep track of trends and similarities to enable easy recognition of threats and to keep engineers accountable.

Conclusion

The threat landscape is constantly evolving because attackers always find new ways to infiltrate and exploit systems for malicious gain. Therefore, developing a vulnerability management plan is crucial in ensuring and reassuring that the general security posture of an organization remains solid. To enable maximum security using vulnerability management strategies, continuous and consistent activities are required so that no stone is left unturned in the quest to prevent cyber risk from occurring and to block attackers from gaining access to an organization’s systems

Looking to expand your knowledge of vulnerability research and exploitation? Check out our online course, MVRE - Certified Vulnerability Researcher and Exploitation Specialist. In this course, you’ll learn about the different aspects of vulnerability research and how to put them into practice.