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Vulnerability Management: Best Practices Guide

Every organization or company can face vulnerabilities when using digital assets and software programs developed by third parties. If a hacker or cybercriminal were to gain access to the system, they could gain access to sensitive information or disrupt operations. Companies must keep up with the latest trends in vulnerability management to protect their data and assets from criminals that look to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. These attacks have become more dangerous and prevalent in recent years. Learn more about the vulnerability management process to improve asset security.

What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is defined as the ongoing practice of detecting and classifying security vulnerabilities, as well as prioritizing vulnerability remediation, in IT infrastructure and applications. The key term is “ongoing.” IT specialists and security managers need to routinely assess their assets for vulnerabilities as these threats continue to evolve.

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Companies now use automated vulnerability scanner management tools to quickly gather information about the security of their assets. These programs regularly reassess these assets over time to prevent attacks from occurring. They rely on public databases that list reported asset vulnerabilities, such as those featured in the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) and Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE). New vulnerabilities and potential threats are added to these databases every few days. Time is of the essence when it comes to asset management. Companies must remediate the vulnerability and patch the system before an attack occurs.

While the methods vary, the goal remains the same: reduce overall risk to corporate and customer data.

How Has Vulnerability Management Evolved?

Cyber criminals have been around since the dawn of computers, but the methods they use have evolved. These criminals will exploit any vulnerability in the system. They often target sensitive user and customer information and valuable trade secrets.

These attacks fall into one of three categories: vendor, system, and user originated. More hackers have come to rely on human error in recent years. Malware, ransomware, and other computer viruses are often spread through malicious links and attachments. Many hackers will pose as a member of the organization to trick the person into accidentally giving them access to the system.

We’ve also seen a rise in government-sponsored cybercrime targeting vital IT infrastructure, including high-profile companies and government offices. Criminals can easily download malware tool kits when engineering an attack, making these threats even more common and dangerous than they were in years past.

Many companies have a history of using penetration testing to identify potential vulnerabilities, which is when an outsider stages an attack on the system. However, these methods have been replaced with automated tools that regularly report on the security of these assets for a more comprehensive analysis.

Threat and Vulnerability Management Best Practices

Every company has its own way of managing vulnerability, but the process must include the following steps:

  • Identify all IT assets, including web applications, software programs, and other digital assets connected to the internet, while mapping out the entire scope of the network.
  • Prioritize assets based on risk level and their relationship to the operation of the business.
  • Scan all assets for potential vulnerabilities using a continuous vulnerability scanning tool and prioritize the threat or vulnerability based on risk level.
  • Remediate the threat by patching the system and documenting all steps taken.

What to Scan?

When identifying assets and choosing what to scan, be as thorough as possible. Everything that is connected to your company’s network should be scanned, including:

  • Servers – operating systems, web servers, email servers, etc.
  • Databases
  • Firewalls
  • Switches and hubs
  • Wireless access points
  • Client devices (where applicable)
  • PBX and VOIP systems

Vulnerability Classification and Prioritization

Once these assets have been identified, you must prioritize your assets using a risk-based system. The CVSS and CVE rate vulnerabilities based on risk level. When conducting an application security vulnerabilities assessment, the vulnerability scanner will automatically categorize the threat based on various technical and business risks. The goal is to identify the vulnerabilities that pose the most risk to the organization, including those that affect assets containing sensitive information and those that could disrupt business operations.

Vulnerability Remediation

The scanning tool will automatically identify potential vulnerabilities. You will need to remediate the vulnerability by patching the system as quickly as possible.

Remediation is about more than implementing the right technology. You also need to have the right people in place to correct the issue. The scanning tool will usually include guidelines and tips for remediation, but the process needs to be carried out efficiently. The system should notify the security team or manager in real time, so they can either fix the issue themselves or assign someone else to the task.

Many companies also use a ticketing system when repairing IT assets. Each reported vulnerability gets assigned a ticket. This helps the company keep track of which assets need to be patched.

Vulnerability Management Reporting

An application security vulnerabilities assessment wouldn’t be complete without an official report. You need to document every potential vulnerability for compliance and regulatory purposes. It’s best to include as much information as possible in the report, so your team can learn from these potential threats down the line.

Reports are often created based on the target audience, such as an IT specialist, corporate shareholder, or government auditor. The report may contain different information based on the intended reader. However, vulnerability reporting should include:

  • A list of all assets covered in the detection phase
  • Graphs and/or charts depicting overall risk status
  • Prioritized listing of vulnerabilities ranked by risk rating
  • Trending of vulnerabilities from discovery and remediation perspectives
  • Trouble-ticket status
  • Technical information about unremediated vulnerabilities

When reporting on an individual vulnerability or attack, be sure to include the time and date, the nature of the vulnerability or attack, how it occurred, and whether/how the issue was resolved.

Vulnerability management is often a complex process. There are so many factors to consider when prioritizing your time and effort.

In order to create a successful vulnerability management program, your company must have the will and drive to address these issues. This requires the support of company leadership as well as ongoing training and technical expertise. You should always have an objective when setting an agenda for your approach. Take advantage of the latest technology to automate the process, so you can devote fewer resources without compromising your security.

Proper vulnerability management requires regular reporting and monitoring as these threats continue to evolve. Download the full Vulnerability Management: Best Practices Guide from NopSec to learn more about risk management in today’s complex digital world.

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