author photo
By David Balaban
Wed | Feb 15, 2023 | 9:10 AM PST

Vulnerability management comprises the entirety of workflows geared toward maintaining an up-to-date inventory of a company's digital assets, checking them for imperfections, and addressing the detected security loopholes. It revolves around the principle of monitoring and hardening the security condition of a corporate IT infrastructure continuously to ensure proactive defenses against different forms of exploitation.

Running a scan is half the battle

There is a big gap between the use of garden-variety vulnerability scanners and a full-fledged vulnerability management cycle. The latter aims to enhance corporate security, in general, and incident response, in particular.

The ability to spot a critical flaw is undoubtedly important, but it doesn't make an organization any safer unless the weak link is eliminated before criminals piggyback on it to infiltrate the network. The mechanisms that are leveraged to analyze vulnerabilities and prioritize the remediation steps play a significant role as well. This part of the protection equation goes way beyond scanners alone.

Essentially, vulnerability management extends the functionality of the scanning process by assessing, categorizing, and addressing the pinpointed shortcomings. This approach has caused a paradigm shift in the enterprise security world. Previously, the main goal was to uncover loopholes in a computer network. Now, it mainly comes down to methods that can be used to take care of these issues.

Most services of this sort use a fairly straightforward licensing scheme based on the number of secured IP addresses. Their location or the required installation count doesn't affect the price tag. Providers of vulnerability scanning tools stick to a different model, in which the final price depends on the number of hosts and specific scanning preferences.

Your checklist for selecting a vulnerability management system

To choose a service that will match your infrastructure, consider the following criteria: the size of your organization, the number of subsidiaries operating in different time zones, and the common types of vulnerabilities inherent to the industry you represent.

A possible conflict of interest between different teams can be another non-trivial factor you should keep in mind. To a large extent, the choice depends on whether the cybersecurity and IT departments can find common ground when discussing the required features of the system. Security experts tend to put vulnerability detection first, whereas IT specialists typically prioritize remediation. The negotiation process will help you better understand what specifications you need.

Pay attention to how often the vulnerability management solution gets updates and how comprehensive these updates are. Also, look at the list of supported operating systems and application frameworks to avoid compatibility problems.

To lure customers and secure as many contracts as possible, providers may commit to improving their offerings with new functionalities in the future. However, some of them neglect to keep these promises. That being said, you are better off concentrating on the range of features that are already in place.

One of the important things on the plus side of any vulnerability management system is the option to integrate your threat database with information obtained from third-party sources. Furthermore, its ability to list examples of public exploits based on specific security gaps won't go amiss.

Many organizations have a hard time deciding what type of subscription to select—free or commercial. If you are in the same boat, here is some food for thought: keeping a vulnerability database current requires a good deal of effort, time, and investment. To provide a tool with no financial strings attached, its developers probably have to focus on other activities that generate profit. As a result, free products usually lack some essential features or simply aren't effective enough.

Successful use cases and the vendor's reputation can give you clues whether a solution is worth deploying. It is in your best interest to go for tools with a perfect track record that boast significant capabilities to pinpoint, evaluate, prioritize, and fix vulnerabilities across a wide range of software environments, including Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and macOS platforms.

If the tool is backed by a large database of third-party patches, it ensures a swift response to emerging threats. Well-orchestrated patch automation makes the process frictionless, with intuitive dashboards helping you stay on top of the vulnerability status of your digital ecosystem.

To take your protection agility a step further, go for solutions that give you actionable insights into the security condition of your critical applications and systems. Advanced alerting features, precise threat scoring, and APIs for seamless integration with your internal processes play an important role here.

Components of the vulnerability management process

Vulnerability management comprises a set of disparate tools that complement each other to generate the expected results. Here is a list of what's usually required to detect and fix network security flaws:

  • Various applications that collect, aggregate, and process vulnerability-related data. These may include traditional scanners, utilities that analyze information from third-party sources, and private vulnerability repositories acquired by the company's security personnel.
  • Tools that provide Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) data based on collected metrics and evaluate the importance of the assets that are susceptible to specific vulnerabilities.
  • Instruments that facilitate the interoperability between an internally deployed system and external vulnerability databases.
  • Solutions that address a security flaw with regard to the organization's network architecture, the industry in which it operates, and the worldwide attack surface.
Patch automation and asset management done right

The most effective way to streamline the patch management workflow is to label every vulnerability signature with a unique identifier and ascertain that it is remedied during the next update. This process must be organized as meticulously as possible because failing to apply a single patch can be detrimental.

It is also recommended to correlate automatic patches with a specific segment of the network. For example, the scope of computer updates may be limited to installing the latest versions of operating systems and most-used software, such as web browsers and office tools. Corporate servers require greater scrutiny, given that a shoddy update may cause a malfunction and disrupt your business activity by making valuable data inaccessible.

Again, a lot depends on how well the security and IT teams get along. These folks have to reach a consensus on who will deploy updates for which enterprise resources and how frequently this will be happening. At the end of the day, the efficiency of vulnerability management is tantamount to compliance with such agreements and applying critical patches in time.

The asset management routine should also be as automated as possible. In addition, it needs to occur regularly and embrace all the areas of the company's digital infrastructure. These are the key prerequisites for prioritizing vulnerabilities. Also, it is impossible to supervise your corporate IT network unless you keep a record of its elements. This makes asset management an important link in the vulnerability management chain.

How will vulnerability management evolve?

The most conspicuous trend in this niche of cybersecurity is the growing automation of the underlying processes, including the above-mentioned asset and patch management. With the technology behind vulnerability assessment services being constantly refined, it is safe to expect a much higher accuracy of their verdicts down the line. Furthermore, these solutions will probably use more metrics to prioritize vulnerabilities.

The emergence of comprehensive security platforms that will manage risks, vulnerabilities, and assets while providing other essential protection modules is also likely in the near future. Packed with overarching functionality, such one-stop tools can take corporate defenses to the next level and significantly simplify the everyday chores of security personnel.