The increase in ransomware attacks and hacks have targeted small and medium-sized businesses. Bad actors are continuously looking for vulnerabilities to exploit in workstations, servers, networks and cloud infrastructures. Companies need to be vigilant to identify any potential weaknesses requiring a proactive course of action to protect your organization from attacks to keep one step ahead. Proactive vulnerability management is the best approach to identify and remedy these security flaws.
Establishing a vulnerability management plan ensures your business can detect and neutralize any potential attacks daily while implementing safeguards to prevent similar attacks from being successful.
To create a vulnerability management plan, you need to understand your vulnerability management architecture. This includes developing a framework and step-by-step program for identifying and addressing risks in your organization.
Vulnerability management should not be confused with risk or threat management. Risks are a combination of threats and vulnerabilities, while threats are external actors that are likely to cause harm. Threats are generally out of your control and can only be dealt with as they come up. Conversely, vulnerabilities are weaknesses that could allow harm (threats) to occur within your organization.
Therefore vulnerability management is about identifying and managing internal weaknesses that could allow attackers to exploit your organization’s IT infrastructure.
Below, we highlight the vulnerability management process and why your business requires a vulnerability management plan.
What is Vulnerability Management?
Vulnerability management is the practice of discovering, assessing, categorizing, and containing vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT landscape. The critical components evaluated within the limits of vulnerability management are operating systems, hardware, mobile devices, enterprise software, browsers, and networking systems.
By that definition, it’s not a static or one-off engagement; it’s an ongoing dynamic process that needs to scale as a company grows.
Why do you need vulnerability management? Cybercriminals are always searching for ways to exploit companies using ransomware or stealing company data. By providing a service or a product, you have valuable data that bad actors can profit from stealing.
Regardless of what industry you operate in, your market size, or your location, your business is a potential target. Vulnerability management ensures that you’re always in a position to identify and neutralize threats before they cripple your business.
Rapid digital transformation is one answer to the question of why do we need vulnerability management? The recent pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in many companies forcing them to adapt quickly to the challenges of managing a remote workforce. In many cases, this has opened up more areas of vulnerability in an IT infrastructure to exploit. You’ve probably heard the phrase “that data is the new gold,” and bad actors know this too well. That’s why in most cyberattacks, gaining access to company data is the main point of the attack because data contains limitless opportunities.
Attackers can access credit card information, passwords, social security numbers, confidential business and financial information – all of which have potential financial gain.
It’s important to know that vulnerability management involves more than just implementing security software. It’s a company-wide proactive process that includes developing security policies, daily vulnerability assessments, routine staff training, penetration testing cycles – all of which have a common goal of continuous evaluation and vulnerability containment.
Difference between Vulnerability Management and Vulnerability Assessment?
It is important to understand the difference between vulnerability management vs vulnerability assessment to develop the correct framework for your organization.
As mentioned earlier, vulnerability management is a proactive process with no time limits; it evolves as your company grows. On the other hand, vulnerability assessment is a significant segment within the whole vulnerability management framework. A vulnerability assessment creates an inventory of your IT assets, determines vulnerabilities that affect those assets, and provides mitigation recommendations. Information collected during this assessment helps your company strengthen its security policies and procedures.
A vulnerability assessment has a specific time frame with a start and end date. A detailed review coupled with an effective vulnerability management program strengthens your company’s ability to tackle vulnerabilities and future threats.
Vulnerability Management Process
A defined vulnerability management process enables organizations to proactively identify and mitigate system weaknesses as soon as they are discovered. You may not be able to predict future vulnerabilities, but with a defined vulnerability management remediation process, you stand a better chance of containing flaws before bad actors exploit them. The method includes the stages below:
It’s impossible to secure vulnerabilities you are unaware of; the first stage involves taking inventory of all your IT assets and identifying potential vulnerabilities within these assets.
The list includes operating systems, applications, networking devices, mobile devices, existing security configurations, servers, cloud infrastructure, hardware, licenses, and any other asset relevant to this process.
The best practice is to automate the discovery phase. A unified endpoint management platform can discover and display all IT assets within your organization.
Make use of a vulnerability database and threat intelligence information to guide the search for vulnerabilities. These identification tools contain all possible threats, harmful actors, vulnerabilities, attack indicators, and malware.
Proceed to map out your landscape that displays all IT assets, how they connect, attack access points, and existing protection to secure these access points.
2. Vulnerability Assessment
Once you identify all assets and corresponding vulnerabilities, start the threat severity assessment. The review helps to pick out where to concentrate security efforts and mitigate risks.
The best practice is to identify the most severe vulnerabilities and threats then work your way down to the least severe. By remediating the most severe vulnerabilities, you decrease their overall effect on all your assets and better manage the least problematic exposures.
The third phase involves categorizing threats and assigning risk markers according to the potential adverse business and financial impact they can cause on your organization. Again, there are systems you can employ to determine risk levels and help you prioritize mitigation tactics.
The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) is one such system. It’s a standardized format used by security experts and available in vulnerability databases. The CVSS categorizes vulnerabilities based on markers that show vulnerability effectiveness to your company.
Based on the risks identified and prioritized above, you can either reduce access to vulnerable entry points or increase monitoring efforts to mitigate potential exploitation. Penetration testing, or pen-testing as it is often referred to, is a great tool to confirm your mitigation tactics’ effectiveness and identify vulnerabilities created in the mediation process. Then, fix exposures with security reconfigurations, patches, or appropriate controls.
The final phase in the vulnerability management process is reporting on the exercise above. This step involves reporting on vulnerability measures and their effectiveness to company shareholders. Reporting gives IT teams, C-suite executives, managers, and directors a summary of security system performance to determine their efficacy on the business.
Reporting also creates a baseline for future vulnerability management activities.
Vulnerability Management – Challenges
A common challenge in vulnerability management is accurately identifying all the flaws and tracking them in real-time. Unfortunately, it can seem like an insurmountable task to trace all vulnerabilities across distributed teams working remotely.
Another challenge is limited resources. Vulnerability management requires dedicated effort in the form of teams, security partners, tools, and software, all of which affect your company’s bottom line. Therefore, we recommend you work with a flexible partner who can customize their vulnerability management programs to available resources.
Juggling your company’s workspace and different security tools is challenging. Such a scenario can lead to a messy workspace and reduced productivity. The best practice is to work with a unified endpoint management platform that centralizes all your work tools, including the vulnerability management software.
How to Develop an Effective Vulnerability Management Plan
It takes time and dedicated effort to create an effective program capable of proactively managing vulnerabilities. We recommend the following best practices for a strong vulnerability program:
1. Conduct Routine Penetration Testing
One of the best ways to proactively identify vulnerabilities is regular pen-testing. Pen-tests reveal system weaknesses from an attacker’s point of view and provide mitigation tools to close those loopholes.
2. Regularly Update Your IT Asset Inventories
Having a centralized view of all your applications and endpoints reduces the chances of being caught off guard by attackers. This process also helps you to decommission end-of-life equipment and destroy outdated data that attackers could exploit.
3. Map and Visualize Vulnerabilities
Modern technology allows companies to develop interactive interfaces to help you visualize vulnerabilities across your IT landscape. Visualizing is an excellent tool in identifying vulnerability paths, attack processes, and specific attack entry points. This visualization data also helps IT admins easily discover and develop problem-specific patches in a short amount of time.
4. Advanced Analytics
Machine learning and AI are critical in effectively identifying and neutralizing threats. You can better predict potential attacks and diffuse necessary solutions when you have accurate real-time data.
5. Engage External Stakeholders
Familiarity with your systems can easily blindside internal teams whenever surprise attacks come up. Working with an external partner to develop and implement vulnerability management strategies gives you a different perspective and challenges your teams to think differently.
Partner With Experts in Cybersecurity
Keeping one step ahead of the continually evolving threat landscape is a full-time activity and requires specialist knowledge and skillset. Many smaller organizations do not have dedicated resources or a budget to hire security experts. Relying on a trusted partner in cybersecurity is a proven, cost-effective alternative. CG Technologies have over 25 years of experience delivering exceptional services to 100’s of companies in the Greater Toronto Area. Our managed cybersecurity services take care of your IT security needs allowing you to focus on your business’ growth. We’ve designed our security services and solutions around the problems and obstacles that face small to medium businesses every day. Download our whitepaper, the small business guide to ransomware protection or contact us to arrange a security assessment before a security breach or ransomware attack impacts your business.