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Cybercriminals are growing ever more relentless and deft with their attacks, with data breaches and system disruptions due to cyberattacks rising every year. Therefore, finding and strengthening cybersecurity weak spots, or vulnerabilities, is key to thwarting these attacks. 

A key vulnerability is apps. Many organizations rely on productivity software and apps built in-house or from IT service providers to be competitive in today’s market. However, while these solutions boost productivity and employee and customer experiences, many of them have weak security measures that can expose the organization to cyberattackers.

Implementing a successful vulnerability management program is necessary for your overall IT risk management plan to protect your business from these threats. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the security and vulnerability management market is expected to reach $11.72 billion by 2026. 

Dealing with cybersecurity vulnerabilities, exploits and attacks is difficult since they are continuously evolving. New vulnerabilities and exploits are found daily, leading attackers to build innovative cyberthreats to exploit them. As a result, automated vulnerability management techniques like vulnerability testing and patch management are critical for mitigating emerging cybersecurity risks.

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If an organization doesn’t currently engage in vulnerability management, it’s essential to understand the potential consequences and how to develop a successful vulnerability management solution as part of your overall cybersecurity strategy.

How does vulnerability management work?

Vulnerability management can help identify security vulnerabilities in unpatched systems that, if exploited by adversaries, can put an entire enterprise environment at risk. Typically, vulnerability management is a foundational practice and an integral part of any standard cybersecurity initiative. 

However, constantly changing device demographics and increasing sophistication in cyberattack techniques, including an increase in recent multipronged attacks, are challenging existing vulnerability management practices. 

“Vulnerabilities open doors for attackers that are hidden from an organization. Even if attackers and organizations learn at the same time of a vulnerability, the attackers are faster to exploit than the organizations are to find and fix it,” said Kevin Haley, director of security response at Symantec.

According to Haley, robust vulnerability management is the only way for businesses to have a fair chance against attackers and mitigating such cyberthreats.

A vulnerability management program’s goal is to keep networks safe against known exploitations while ensuring compliance with regulatory obligations. This protects a business network from being breached through well-known vulnerabilities, making it much harder for cybercriminals to target the company. It can also help protect the business from penalties associated with regulatory noncompliance, saving money and your company’s reputation.

Steve Benton, vice president of Anomali Threat Research, said he believes that as much as vulnerability management programs are absolutely critical for data-driven businesses to mitigate cyberthreats, they also need to be intelligence-led. 

“Organizations give themselves away too cheaply to attackers by not prioritizing mitigating vulnerabilities from their attack surface. Given the resource constraints all organizations face, you must have the means to determine and act on the vulnerabilities most likely to be exploited in attacks on your organization,” Benton told VentureBeat. 

Talking about how data-driven organizations can achieve best-in-class status for a vulnerability management program, Benton says that the vulnerability management cycle needs to be empowered and enabled by threat-relevant intelligence correlated to the organization’s attack surface and key assets. 

“Such precise and laser-focused assessment must be further translated into a verifiable patch/mitigation execution. Intelligence is the steel thread that will pump-prime best-in-class status,” said Benton. 

Key processes

A vulnerability management program may be built internally or by utilizing a vulnerability management service from a managed security service provider (MSSP).

When developing a program internally, several factors must be taken into account:

Identification: A vulnerability assessment is an essential first step in developing a vulnerability management strategy. Without a method for identifying weaknesses, your management approach will be a shot in the dark rather than an intelligent strategy. As a result, conduct an initial evaluation to discover vulnerabilities and be receptive to employee input if they uncover other problems. For a thorough assessment, it is critical to scan systems and programs that have network access and track the services that run on the network, including remote access portals, during this stage.

Analysis: The next step is to assess the risk of a vulnerability and estimate how much time, money or other resources would be required to rectify it. To determine these features, a team must discuss a few critical questions: How difficult would it be for an attacker to exploit this vulnerability? What danger does this vulnerability represent to our network or digital assets? Since each vulnerability is unique, it is critical to identify vital facts to make educated decisions with your vulnerability management team moving forward.

Treatment: The next step is to address any vulnerabilities discovered within the network, hardware or software. The following action plans should be used to prioritize vulnerabilities based on their severity:

  • Remediate: The ideal action plan for any possible risks discovered within a network is to completely resolve the vulnerability. If it is not feasible to resolve every vulnerability discovered, this should at least be the expectation when dealing with weaknesses that might cause significant damage to the organization.
  • Mitigate: If the full resolution isn’t possible for the vulnerability, a solution is to mitigate its potential impact on the enterprise. This action plan ultimately buys you time until a solution is found and helps your cybersecurity posture tremendously.
  • Acceptance: When the cost of fixing a vulnerability surpasses the potential harm of the exposure, it’s best to merely be aware of it.

To address vulnerabilities more effectively, it is critical to collaborate with an internal IT team to evaluate which vulnerabilities require immediate attention and remedy, which may simply be mitigated for the time being and which don’t warrant any action at all.

Continued reporting and monitoring: For continually developing cyberthreats, it’s critical not to stagnate in the vulnerability management program — something that may be avoided by periodically monitoring current vulnerabilities and scanning for new ones. Establish a simple approach to report potential vulnerabilities across all teams within your business by compiling reports of existing vulnerabilities and their plans of action. This will assist the internal IT staff in staying informed of current and prospective dangers.

According to Pete Chestna, CISO North America at Checkmarx, when designing a vulnerability management program, firms frequently spend too much time “managing” the vulnerabilities rather than addressing them.

“We need realistic goals based on the team’s maturity and the application’s importance. Any vulnerabilities that get to production by exception process or ‘management’ are probably there for good. So it’s important to be clear-eyed on that and refer from your data to confirm,” Chestna told VentureBeat.  

The role of automation

Since current threats need constant moderation, vulnerability management software can assist in automating this process. 

A vulnerability management program employs a vulnerability scanner and, in some cases, endpoint agents to inventory and identify vulnerabilities in multiple systems on a network. Vulnerability scanning uses an automated program to scan an organization’s IT networks, apps, devices, and other internal or external assets for potential security flaws and vulnerabilities.

Users receive a report at the end of each vulnerability scan that records the vulnerabilities discovered, as well as risk rankings for each vulnerability and security advice. Furthermore, the discovered vulnerability threats are evaluated in various contexts so that decisions regarding how to effectively handle them can be made.

“The idea behind automated vulnerability management programs (AVMPs) is to reduce the time it takes organizations to roll out patches,” Alon Nachmany, field CISO at AppViewX, told VentureBeat.  

Nachmany says that the remediation process where patches must be tested and deployed is time-consuming and could increasingly benefit from automation.

“[AVMPs] can help automate and ultimately reduce this process, rolling out patches much faster and plugging security holes that expose the company. In addition, automating the QA process for testing and the implementation factor would reduce the time it takes to secure the organization,” he said.

The impact and exploitability of a vulnerability are estimated by taking into consideration a variety of parameters such as ease of access, authentication, the diffusion of the vulnerability, the availability of mitigation, and others. 

The exploitability and impact are then combined to assign each vulnerability a severity score between 0.0 and 10.0. This is known as the CVSS score (common vulnerability scoring system). The vulnerabilities are further categorized as high, medium or low severity based on their CVSS score.

Vulnerabilities with a score of 7 to 10 are regarded as extremely serious, while a score of 4 to 6.9 are classified as medium and those with a value of 0 to 3.9 are classified as low. These scores enable developers and security professionals to prioritize vulnerabilities based on severity, ensuring that the most significant ones are handled first.

Forrester senior analyst, Erik Nost, said that many security teams today deal with staffing and skill shortages, and automating critical processes such as vulnerability management can aid such use cases.  

“Anything that removes manual effort is always helpful. However, dealing with today’s threat volume is almost impossible without automation. Scanning for assets, and vulnerabilities on them, is the most common process that is fully automated today,” Nost told VentureBeat. 

Future vulnerability management challenges

One of the critical future challenges for vulnerability management frameworks is the need for an integrated solution for supply chain attacks, said Rohit Dhamankar, VP of threat intelligence at Alert Logic. 

Dhamankar believes that supply chain attacks are a critical vulnerability that organizations need to address, as evidenced by the infamous Log4j critical vulnerability in December of 2021. “As organizations get more and more code-shared for development, it is necessary to know what software and packages are being used in the network directly or indirectly. It also highlights the boundary lines of shared responsibilities in this aspect,” he said. 

While automation can bring various benefits to the vulnerability management process for most medium- to enterprise-sized firms, it can also add potentially significant expenses, according to Jerrod Piker, competitive intelligence analyst at Deep Instinct.

“An organization must know what assets are the most important to protect so they can balance the cost of automation, whether it be through in-house or third-party solutions. This can only be achieved through the process of categorization and prioritization,” Piker explained.

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