There is no such thing as an ironclad cybersecurity system. Even the most well-designed programs are subject to technology shifts, system failures, and good old-fashioned human error. Unauthorized access, weak endpoint security, and outdated defenses are all potential threats that could be disastrous for your organization. This is why vulnerability management is a critical part of any cybersecurity program.

Vulnerability management is the cornerstone of all information security programs. Cybersecurity practitioners leverage vulnerability management programs to identify, classify, prioritize, remediate, and mitigate the vulnerabilities found in software and networks. By adding vulnerability management to your cybersecurity efforts, you decrease the likelihood that potential threats will go unnoticed.

The Vulnerability Management Program Examined

What’s the difference between vulnerability assessment and vulnerability management?

A vulnerability assessment is only one part of vulnerability management — a critical part of vulnerability management, to be sure; but only one part.

The assessment helps you to determine what vulnerabilities exist in your security system, so you can prioritize those that have the most potential for harm. This process is frequently automated, and while vulnerability scanners can sometimes create false positives, they are still a good way to achieve a clear picture of what vulnerabilities are threatening your system.

Penetration testing is another critical component of vulnerability management and is a key technique to prevent data breaches. Also called “pen testing” or “ethical hacking,” penetration testing is the practice of testing a computer system, network, or web application to find security vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. The process involves gathering information about the target before the test, identifying possible entry points, attempting to break in (either virtually or for real) and reporting back the findings.

Assessments and pen testing are important pieces of your overall vulnerability management effort. They allow you to look critically at your current cybersecurity program and decide where improvements should be made. Common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) uncovered by scans and tests will give important information on how to address and remediate the detected vulnerability.

What are the elements of a vulnerability management program?

No two programs will be the same, but successful vulnerability management solutions often follow this outline:

  • Identify. Vulnerabilities lurk in the network, servers, operating systems, databases, applications, websites, and cloud. Identification is critical for an organization to know what vulnerabilities are a potential threat.
  • Classify. Once your vulnerabilities are detected, classify them into groups. The ability to classify vulnerabilities makes prioritization, remediation, and mitigation easier.
  • Prioritize. Rank your identified vulnerabilities by severity and prioritize actions. The criticality of a vulnerability should dictate how quickly it is remediated.
  • Remediate. Take action to fix the vulnerability by closing ports, patching software, or through a detailed process exception. Most organizations remediate vulnerabilities once the risk is understood and a priority is assigned.
  • Mitigate. Implement controls to prevent the same vulnerability or type of vulnerability from happening again. Examples of mitigating controls include threat intelligence feeds, entity behavior analytics, and intrusion detection with prevention. The ultimate goal is to reduce the attack surface of your systems.

Just because you are able to identify, classify, prioritize, remediate, and mitigate a vulnerability one time, that does not mean the process is complete. True protection comes from the continuous management of vulnerabilities.

How do you implement vulnerability management?

  • Customize your approach. Your vulnerability management system will not come with a standard one size fits all template. To succeed you’ll need to examine your system within the context of your particular industry. Vulnerabilities that are catastrophic to some companies may be less urgent to others, and it’s important to understand your organization’s needs before you begin.
  • Create your plan. Once your assessment is complete, decide what steps must be taken to protect your company’s data, as well as the metrics you’ll use to determine success or failure. Make sure you prioritize the vulnerabilities that have the greatest potential for breach (the most probable threats) as well as those that put your most critical data at risk (the most dangerous ones).
  • Find the support you need. Successful vulnerability management includes strong communication, a well-trained staff, and reliable security tools. Integrating vulnerability management throughout your company’s policies, procedures, and controls can help your security teams eliminate current risks and prevent new vulnerabilities in the future.

Controlling your system’s vulnerabilities can be difficult when you can’t see the big picture. To understand your full threat landscape, you need the ability to examine your organization as a whole and not just the sum of its parts.

ZenGRC is an integrated platform that provides real-time, continuous monitoring of your organization’s risk management efforts. Through automation and integration, ZenGRC allows for a complete view of your vulnerabilities, creating visibility and scalability throughout your entire company. Schedule a demo today and learn more about how ZenGRC can help you eliminate vulnerabilities and keep your company safe from hackers.