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Joy Winter
Joy Winter

Posted on • Originally published at

Vulnerability Management: 5 Best Practices to Protect Your Business

An inconvenient truth about running a business these days is the soaring number of cyberattacks that target a wide range of organizations - ranging from startups to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to giant multinational corporations.

One consistent avenue for attackers to exploit businesses is through discovering vulnerabilities in software and other systems before vendors can issue patches. These vulnerabilities often go undetected for long periods of time and can potentially allow direct access to an attacker.

An average of 81% of all security issues is related to network vulnerabilities, whereas 19% is associated with web applications such as APIs.

Vulnerability management is an effective security solution that helps identify and address networks, applications, processes, and software vulnerabilities. Vulnerability management is somewhat of an umbrella term defined to cover the entire process of identifying and managing vulnerabilities in software.

What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in an environment, evaluating the risks associated with them, and taking appropriate measures to mitigate them.

It is a proactive approach to manage security vulnerabilities by early detection and reducing the likelihood that weaknesses in code or design could compromise the security of your systems or an endpoint.

Vulnerability management involves several steps ranging from vulnerability scanning to taking other aspects such as risk acceptance, mitigation, and remediation.

Identify assets: The first step in vulnerability management is identifying assets in your company. For example, if a database stores the sensitive information of customers, it needs to be well protected.

Scan vulnerabilities: Once you have identified critical assets, scan them for vulnerabilities. You can do this via regular network scanning, penetration testing, or using an automated tool like a vulnerability scanner.

Identify vulnerabilities: Once the network is scanned for vulnerabilities, the pen test results, or vulnerability scan results are analyzed to determine anomalies that suggest risks or potential malicious threats that could take advantage of a security vulnerability or could exploit a vulnerability in the future.

Determine the severity of vulnerabilities: In this step, vulnerabilities are classified on the basis of their severity, the level of risk they represent, and their impact on applications, networks, and servers on the system.

Address vulnerabilities: After determining the severity of vulnerabilities, it is time to accept, transfer, or mitigate these vulnerabilities.

The Importance of Vulnerability Management

Vulnerabilities in a system represent security flaws that could be exploited by cyber criminals to gain access to sensitive data, cause denial of service, and damage to other assets. Attackers are regularly looking for new vulnerabilities they can abuse and take advantage of security gaps such as unpatched vulnerabilities.

A survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that of those companies that suffered a breach, nearly 60% were caused due to an unpatched vulnerability. These breaches could have been easily avoided by survey respondents if they had simply had a vulnerability management solution in place that patched vulnerabilities and fixed them before hackers exploited them.

Having a vulnerability management solution in place that constantly checks for new vulnerabilities and helps mitigate them is essential for preventing cybersecurity breaches. Without a proper vulnerability management and patch system in place, old security gaps may be left on the software or network for a prolonged period of time.

By integrating a strong vulnerability management system in your organization, you can secure and control your cybersecurity risks.

5 Vulnerability Management Best Practices

Vulnerability management is a process that should be performed regularly in order to determine, assess, mitigate, and report software vulnerabilities.

To stay abreast of the latest changes made in its software, new systems added to its network, and regularly discovering new vulnerabilities, here are some best practices that you should consider:

1. Establish a Vulnerability Management Strategy

There are several reasons why companies establish a vulnerability management strategy. One of the most primary reasons is to comply with security standards or frameworks, such as ISO 27001 or PCI DSS.

Additionally, having a vulnerability management strategy allows you to develop and enhance visibility in your IT infrastructure. This helps ensure that your business can effectively respond to security risks in a timely manner.

A poorly created strategy for vulnerability management is less likely to achieve significant results. An organization that wants to create a successful vulnerability management strategy will implement a comprehensive set of security controls that will include a combination of the following:

People: The security or IT team of an enterprise should have the necessary skills and experience to properly implement the strategy. What really makes a difference is their ability to understand how security vulnerabilities and risks affect the overall IT environment. Team members should also have the capability and experience to effectively communicate with stakeholders, such as technical staff, users, or business management.

Process: Creating a vulnerability management strategy is one thing, however its efficacy depends on the organization’s ability to build a solid strategy and implement the processes that are achievable and actionable. An effective strategy helps make quick decisions such as mitigation or remediation of discovered vulnerabilities.

Technology: Businesses should consider what tools are ideal for their vulnerability management strategy and how they should be configured. These tools should be capable of more than just obtaining information about vulnerabilities, from the business’ IT environment. Furthermore, they should also involve asset tracking and database, and ticketing systems.

While these might work independently sometimes, their real power can emerge when complementary systems work together to leverage the viewpoint of other systems. Thus, it is important for a vulnerability management strategy to provide well-defined integration points to connect various security controls to gain maximum benefits.

2. Use the Right Vulnerability Management Tools

There are various vulnerability scanning tools available, and they typically consist of a console and scanning engines. Vulnerability scanning is a crucial part of vulnerability management programs because it is a well-structured method to scan, identify, assess, and report potential weaknesses on a network.

What is a vulnerability scanner tool?

As the name implies, a vulnerability scanner tool scans your IT infrastructure (such as software, applications, networks, servers, routers, and computers), then identifies and reports on vulnerabilities, active Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, operating systems, services, and software that are installed and running.

These scanner tools usually compare the information they find against a known set of vulnerabilities in their databases or third-party information databases such as SANS Institute, OVAL, CVE, or the OSVDB.

However, not all vulnerability scanning tools are equal. Many free and low-end scanning tools simply scan a system or network and provide remedial reporting; they also suffer from high false-positives and false-negatives. Whereas, more feature-rich tools include penetration testing and patch management, among other components with more accurate results.

What should you consider while choosing a vulnerability scanning tool?

While choosing a vulnerability scanning tool, it’s important to acquire information about how they are rated for their reliability, scalability, accuracy, and reporting. If a tool lacks accuracy, you might end up running two different tools, hoping one picks up vulnerabilities that the other misses. This could add effort and cost to the scanning process.

Before you choose a scanning tool, you should consider the following criteria:

Usability: It is crucial for organizations to choose a vulnerability scanning tool that suits all of its users, regardless of their knowledge about the technology, to ensure that every member proactively participates in maintaining security in the system. The vulnerability scanning tool should be easy to install and offer great accessibility to its users. In addition to this, the tool should offer automation to perform repetitive tasks that are otherwise done by security professionals.

Cutting edge technology: A vulnerability scanning tool should be capable of providing a total view of a business’s cybersecurity resources. This can only be achieved if a business utilizes state-of-the-art or cutting edge technology which can identify even the most recent security threats and risks. For instance, integrating machine learning in vulnerability scanning is one of the most recent trends today.

False-positive rates: An organization should find out the false-positive rates of a tool before purchasing. A tool with a high false-positive rate may flood data, report issues, and trigger false alarms. This will lead to a loss of resources such as the time and effort invested because a false alarm may cause the security team to perform manual scanning and checks.

Metrics: Reporting is the most critical feature of any vulnerability scanning tool. It helps with the mitigation process of the discovered vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s important to find a tool that can offer flexible and comprehensive reports that provide custom data views, proper information about the identified vulnerabilities, an overview status of the overall security, and analysis of trends. If a vulnerability scanning tool delivers incomplete information, the tool can’t help accomplish security-related goals.

Placement: Another key aspect of using vulnerability management tools is their placement, whether the organization is using commercial tools or doing manual checks. Poor placement of a tool can lead to inaccurate findings or results. A business should ensure that its vulnerability management tools deliver all the necessary functionalities it needs.

3. Extend the Application of Vulnerability Scanning Tools

Vulnerability scanning tools are typically developed and designed to identify vulnerabilities. However, you can extend the application of these tools to gain value in other processes and aspects of your business including:

Application Management: Vulnerability scanning is an essential part of the software development lifecycle, especially when it comes to pre-release testing and post-implementation. Conducting vulnerability scans provides visibility of problems and issues in applications and ensures that these vulnerabilities are addressed immediately. For instance, if a vulnerability scanning tool scans a code, it can be scanned at different points throughout the software development lifecycle: during development, integration testing, user acceptance testing, before the production stage, and after the production stage.

Infrastructure: Vulnerability scanning tools provide detailed understanding to improve and develop validations for patches, configurations, and post-build. For instance, a security team might be in charge of testing the configuration of a new server. A vulnerability scanning tool can provide a comprehensive report about whether the build suits the configuration, checks, and authenticates important settings, and can go further into the server to assess it. From there, a security team can perform a vulnerability check to ensure that the tool determines and addresses all vulnerabilities. This helps analyze the new server and ensure it is safe to use.

Review local users and groups: Vulnerability scanning tools can be used to identify specific local users and groups. This may help identify potential vulnerabilities or security risks.

Identify rogue devices: Vulnerability scanning tools can also identify rogue devices in a system by assessing all the assets within an IP address.

Certificate management: A business may also use vulnerability scanning tools to identify the certificates they utilize. Frequent scans can reveal installed certificates, whether they are self-signed or purchased, along with their expiry dates. Since these tools can help keep track of the expiration dates, businesses have ample time to replace the certificates or extend compliance.

4. Scan Frequently to Close the Door on Network Attacks

Vulnerabilities can be introduced in your network at any time, so it is important to scan the network regularly to ensure that these vulnerabilities are discovered and fixed quickly.

There are two ways to accomplish excellent security in your network.

One, you can assign all the necessary resources to maintain security in your network and find any new security issues. You can ensure all the patches and updates are done at once and are implemented correctly.

Second, utilize a security scanning tool to test your existing network security, applications, equipment, and website to identify vulnerabilities that exist on them and fix them. While an intrusion detection system/intrusion prevention system (IDS/IPS), antivirus, and firewalls are all crucial security measures, it is also important to fix all issues rather than trying to hide them.

In a nutshell, it means that you should proactively fix the existing security weaknesses instead of just building higher security walls. This will help you create a better security model and understand your vulnerabilities more completely.

5. Identify & Remediate Vulnerabilities in a Timely Manner

It is essential for organizations to perform a regular and timely identification and remediation of security vulnerabilities. However, there’s an issue with the remediation of vulnerabilities - it can sometimes be overwhelming. It might involve thousand-page long scan reports and this can be time consuming.

How can you effectively remediate vulnerabilities?

To simplify this issue, here are three steps you should take:

Categorize: The most basic step of remediation of vulnerabilities is classifying them according to their risks, impact, and severity. Categorizing these vulnerabilities helps businesses to understand and assess the issues. For instance, these categories could be false positives, low-risk assets, configuration issues, missing patches, or outdated software. So if a business determines that a high amount of vulnerabilities fall into the category of configuration issues, they can take appropriate actions to configure them quickly.

Prioritize: Not all discovered vulnerabilities are equal. When a vulnerability scan is done, it acquires information on a large scale and ends up with a comprehensive report on all vulnerability issues. But it’s not necessary that all these risks are urgent and need immediate attention, that’s why businesses should prioritize vulnerabilities and respond accordingly.

Bite-size: Once you have categorized and prioritized vulnerabilities, break down your remediation process into bite-size chunks to make them more manageable and effective. Companies should check which tasks are achievable and actionable, making note of quick wins and slow processes that might take more time.

Final Thoughts

If you are already using a vulnerability management solution, consider extending to your entire network, including servers, printers, phones, computers, test servers, etc. Adopting these vulnerability management best practices is one of the most effective ways to secure your business and protect it from cybersecurity attacks.

If you don’t have a vulnerability management system installed on your system, now is the time. You can also reach out to us for more information and help to secure your business from cyber threats.

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