Discover the best vulnerability mitigation strategies to help protect your business from potential threats with this guide from the team at Reciprocity.

2021 (and every year leading up to it) was the worst year on record for cybersecurity. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime as a whole has increased by 600 percent.

Moreover, cybercrime is on track to become an even greater risk in the near future. Global cybercrime costs are expected to grow by 15 percent per year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion USD annually by 2025.

For most businesses, this means potentially catastrophic cybersecurity incidents will only become more common and more costly. Hence cybersecurity risk management is more important than ever before.

Cybersecurity risk management is the process of creating, implementing and maintaining security policies and procedures that aim to reduce the overall risk or harm of a cybersecurity threat.

But before you can mitigate a threat, you first need to identify it, as well as any vulnerabilities that threat actors might exploit to infiltrate your systems or network. Armed with this information, your organization will be better positioned to determine the risk various cybersecurity threats pose.

For the sake of clarity, it’s important to distinguish between a threat, a vulnerability, and a risk. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they mean different things in cybersecurity.

  • A threat generally involves a malicious act that aims to destroy data, inflict harm, or disrupt operations; a threat is an action that hasn’t yet happened. For instance, natural threats are floods, tornadoes, or earthquakes. These types of threats can be planned for by understanding what has happened before. Cyber threats, including malware, ransomware, and viruses, can also be anticipated through a variety of “what if” scenarios.
  • A vulnerability is any flaw or weakness in a computer system, its security procedures, internal controls, or design and implementation, which could be exploited to violate the system security policy. Vulnerabilities can be classified into six categories: hardware, software, network, personnel, physical, and organizational vulnerabilities. In software and applications, vulnerabilities are often patched by a manufacturer to prevent exploitation of the weakness.
  • A risk is the potential harm to systems or the use of systems within an organization. It’s the likelihood that a threat will cause a disruption and the impact of that disruption should it occur. There are different types of risk, including operational reputational, financial, regulatory, and security risks. Identifying and mitigating risks is at the core of all business operations, and the most successful organizations go to great lengths to manage risk.

Together, these three elements each play an important role in cybersecurity risk management. As cybersecurity risk management becomes more important for modern businesses contending with new risks introduced by an increasingly digitized business environment, organizations will need to develop robust strategies for all aspects of the risk management process.

In this article, we’ll focus on one important part of the cybersecurity risk management process: vulnerability mitigation. First, we’ll explain why it’s important, then, we’ll provide some strategies your business can use to develop a vulnerability mitigation plan that protects your organization from cyber threats.

Why Is Vulnerability Mitigation Important?

Hackers can exploit an endless number of vulnerabilities. Even the most secure systems will inevitably fall victim to a successful cyberattack at some point.

The cyclical process of vulnerability management – identifying vulnerabilities, prioritizing them, remediating them, and mitigating them – is critical to defending your organization against cybercrime.

As an example, let’s examine a vulnerability that’s responsible for the majority of compromises and breaches for organizations: poor credential management and lack of authentication.

Weak passwords, duplicate passwords, easy-to-guess usernames and passwords – all of these vulnerabilities can lead to unauthorized access. And once hackers successfully gain access to your systems and networks, they can elevate privileges, giving themselves higher-level permissions to steal confidential data, run administrative controls, or even install malware.

In fact, elevation of privileges was the most widely reported vulnerability found in a variety of Microsoft products in 2020. Further research indicated that 56 percent of all Microsoft critical vulnerabilities could have been mitigated simply by removing administrative privileges. In this case (and in many others) the principle of least privilege – that is, only giving users access to data that’s critical to perform work functions – is a mitigation strategy that could help prevent such an attack.

Another approach quickly gaining popularity is that of zero trust. Maintaining strict access controls, refusing to trust any users by default, and requiring multi-factor authentication, even for those already inside the network perimeter, are just some of the ways in which your organization could protect itself from unauthorized access.

It’s important to note that small or medium-sized businesses can be especially hurt by a successful cyberattack. Indeed, small businesses are actually more likely to fall victim to a cyberattack, because larger organizations already have comprehensive cybersecurity risk management programs in place. Criminals will usually go for the easiest targets when executing a cyberattack, and businesses that aren’t protected are the easiest targets around.

Strategies for Vulnerability Mitigation

The best place to start is with a risk assessment. This will help you identify and prioritize the assets that pose the most risk to your organization. Next, you’ll need to begin the process of identifying vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability identification usually involves vulnerability detection via vulnerability scanning or penetration testing. With either method, the goal is to identify any vulnerabilities in your security so they can be ranked and remediated.

After you identify any vulnerabilities, you’ll need a vulnerability assessment to help you classify and prioritize those with the most potential for harm. Rank your vulnerabilities by severity and prioritize actions to remediate them; the more critical the vulnerability, the more quickly it should be remediated.

Remediating vulnerabilities involves taking a direct action to fix them. This often includes actions like closing ports or patching software. Ideally, you should remediate vulnerabilities as soon as you understand their risk and have assigned them a priority.

Mitigating vulnerabilities involves taking steps to implement internal controls that reduce the attack surface of your systems. Examples of vulnerability mitigation include threat intelligence, entity behavior analytics, and intrusion detection with prevention.

Now let’s take a look at the top seven vulnerability mitigation strategies so your organization can get started on the worry-free path to cybersecurity risk management.

  1. Identify Vulnerabilities

    This strategy might seem self-explanatory, but it’s deserving of additional attention and explanation. As stated above, the first step in vulnerability management is vulnerability identification.

    Start by conducting a thorough cybersecurity risk assessment to help uncover any potential gaps in your organization’s security controls. A risk assessment will offer insight into the assets that need to be protected and how well your existing security controls are working. It will also help your organization’s IT security team to identify any areas of vulnerability that could potentially be exploited and prioritize which steps should be taken first.

    Next conduct vulnerability detection either with vulnerability scanning software or a penetration test. Identifying known vulnerabilities in your systems and network is the only way to assure that you can develop effective vulnerability mitigation strategies going forward.

    Consider using vulnerability databases to stay current on the latest known vulnerabilities that could affect your systems or software. A vulnerability database is a platform that collects, maintains, and shares information about known vulnerabilities. One of the largest and most comprehensive vulnerability databases is run by MITRE and is called Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs). CVEs are assigned a vulnerability score using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to reflect the potential risk a vulnerability could pose to your organization.

    The goal is to uncover as many vulnerabilities as you can before any criminals do. In doing so, you’ll be better able to mitigate those vulnerabilities using internal controls that are designed to meet your business’s unique needs.

  2. Implement Security Controls

    Depending on the vulnerabilities you identify, the next step is to establish security controls to mitigate the risk of any threats. Internal controls are the policies and procedures or technical safeguards put in place to prevent problems and protect your assets.

    There are three types of internal controls: detective, preventative, and corrective. Cybersecurity has a number of information security controls spanning these three categories that your organization should consider.

    • Access controls: restrictions on physical access such as security guards at building entrances, locks, and perimeter fences.
    • Procedural controls: security awareness training and education, security framework compliance training, and incident response plans and procedures.
    • Technical controls: multi-factor authentication, antivirus software and firewalls.
    • Compliance controls: privacy laws and cybersecurity frameworks and standards.

    Without internal controls in place, your organization is more vulnerable to a higher number of cyber risks. Internal controls will help to prevent these risks from taking place, locate the origin of the risks, and help reduce any risks that have already been identified.

  3. Deploy Endpoint Security Defenses

    Some of the most basic technical controls you can implement are firewalls and antivirus software. These security controls provide organizations with an additional barrier to computers, systems and networks. Again, criminals are most likely to go for the easiest target – so even these basic technical controls can create enough of a barrier to make a hacker seek an easier target.

    While firewalls act as a buffer between the outside world and your network and give your organization greater controls over incoming and outgoing traffic, antivirus software searches your devices and or network to identify any potentially malicious threats.

    It’s likely that your organization already has some sort of endpoint protection in place. Antivirus software and firewalls alone, however, are no longer enough to combat advanced malware or intrusions targeting end users and server platforms.

    For this reason, your organization should invest in modern endpoint detection and response tools that incorporate next-generation antivirus, behavioral analysis, and actual response capabilities.

  4. Plan for Patch Management

    Although most software providers and application developers consistently release patches, individual organizations still need to install them. To plan for patch management, start by making yourself aware of the typical patch release schedule among your service or software providers and create a patch management schedule. This will help your organization’s IT security teams stay ahead of any looming cyberattacks.

  5. Make an Incident Response Plan

    In the event of a successful cyberattack or data breach, your organization will have an easier time reacting if it already has a response plan and resources in place. This includes making sure that everyone, including both the IT security team and any non-technical employees, knows what he or she is responsible for.

    An incident response plan is one of the most critical components to mitigating cyber risk in an evolving network environment. It will help your organization to do as much as possible to remain proactively prepared so your team can move quickly and efficiently to remediate any issues.

  6. Continuously Monitor Your Network

    An active approach to cybersecurity is going to be the most effective way to stay ahead of cyber threats and the vulnerabilities they might exploit. By continuously monitoring your network security, you’ll equip your organization with real-time threat detection, giving you a more comprehensive view of your entire IT ecosystem at any given time. Ultimately this will allow your IT security team to more actively identify new threats and determine the best path toward mitigation.

  7. Choose Tools to Help

    The entire process of cybersecurity risk management, from cyber risk assessments and vulnerability assessments through remediation and mitigation, can quickly become overwhelming. For many organizations, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Finding a security solution that can automate the worst parts of vulnerability mitigation will make the entire process less burdensome for you and your team.

Mitigate Vulnerabilities with Reciprocity ZenRisk

Reciprocity ZenRisk is an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution designed to provide you with actionable insights to gain the visibility you need to stay ahead of threats and communicate the impact of risk on high-priority business initiatives. Turn the unknown into quantifiable and actionable risk insights with built-in expertise that identifies and maps risks, threats and controls for you, so you can spend less time setting up the application and more time using it.

A single, real-time view of risk and business context allows you to communicate to the board and key stakeholders in a way that’s framed around their priorities, keeping your risk posture in sync with the direction your business is moving.

Reciprocity ZenRisk will even notify you automatically of any changes or required actions, so you can be on top of your risk posture like never before. Eliminate time-consuming, manual work and streamline collaboration by automating workflows and integrating with your most critical systems.

Plus, Reciprocity ZenRisk is seamlessly integrated with Reciprocity ZenComply so you can leverage your compliance activities to improve your risk posture with the use of AI. Built on the ZenGRC, the Reciprocity product suite gives you the ability to see, understand, and take action on your IT and cyber risks.

Now, through a more active approach, you can give time back to your team with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization mitigate cybersecurity risk and stay ahead of threats.