Vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on your network if you don’t take the necessary precautions to combat them. Having a robust cybersecurity program in place that is focused on vulnerability management can help your organization stay on top of potential security risks before they happen.
According to a 2018 study by Juniper Research, cybercriminals will steal an estimated 33 billion records in 2023 which pales in comparison to the 12 billion records that are estimated to have been swiped in 2018. This 175% increase has led to more companies keeping a closer eye on their network and what vulnerabilities might led to the theft of their own records in the future. Let’s review some of the best ways to build an effective vulnerability management program for your organization.
Hackers have a knack for exploiting network vulnerabilities. Even the smallest gap in a network’s armor can lead a hacker to possess the keys to the kingdom. Luckily for your organization, implementing a vulnerability management program can aid you in keeping hackers from getting past your firewall thereby lowering your risk for a data breach. Unfortunately, vulnerability programs are not one-size-fits-all; they require quite a bit of customization to fit a specific organization’s needs.
Business leaders agree that opting to make a vulnerability risk management program an option for their organization is no longer prudent. In fact, many organizations are now being required by multiple compliance, audit and risk management frameworks to strategize, configure, and implement a sound vulnerability management program for their network. These organizations look to administer a vulnerability management program that continuously acquires, assesses, and acts on new information to identify vulnerabilities and minimize the window of opportunity for attackers. For these organizations to meet regulatory requirements and avoid fines, they must provide detailed reports while also undergoing ongoing due diligence via an audit.
The construction of a vulnerability management program will allow you to intelligently consider the risks that specific vulnerabilities carry with them (because no two vulnerabilities have the same risk profile) while effectively applying security patches and allocating resources towards remediation efforts. But vulnerability management goes deeper than just scanning and identifying risks; it focuses on risk acceptance and remediation (i.e. the big picture). Implementing an effective vulnerability management program helps you to obtain a deeper understanding and control over where information security risks are in your organization.
This deeper understanding of how vulnerabilities impact the critical business functions of your organization is key to prioritizing risk. The process of identifying and mitigating these risks is the ticket to preventing attackers from penetrating your networks and stealing sensitive information. Once you audit your security vulnerabilities and understand where your company needs to focus its attention, it is much easier to forecast your resource needs and effectively minimize your risks over time. Read more about the importance of web penetration testing in our related blog.
Vulnerability Management Plan Best Practices
Over the course of a company’s history, it’s expected that the organization’s quantity of vulnerabilities would grow in line with the growth of the company. The lesson here is to not try to consider decreasing the amount of vulnerabilities, but rather decrease the risk severity of the amount of vulnerabilities that are inherent to having a larger scalable network. If you spend all your time and resources trying to perfect your network and eliminate every vulnerability possible, it will be difficult to turn a profit in the long run. This is a notion that many organizations seem to trip up on.
Instead of attempting to catch every trout in the duck pond, you should consider setting your sights on the open ocean to wrangle a huge marlin that any hacker would love to hang on their mantelpiece. The process of finding and catching that big fish though takes plenty of resources and a little bit of luck. Thankfully, by following the best practices of developing discovery, reporting, prioritization, threat management, and incident response plans, you’re sure to be in good position to reel in the trophy fish vulnerabilities.
The first phase of developing a vulnerability management plan is to find, categorize, and assess your network assets. After putting your assets into a distributed inventory, you will want to organize them into data classes such as vulnerability, configuration, patch state, or compliance state. Once the assets are discovered and cataloged, it needs to be continually refreshed since your network is in a constant state of change. Following through with this step drives the accountability and remediation efforts within the organization and allows you to better control your network environment.
Up until recently, asset discovery and inventory was a semi-manual task that incurred some measure of human error. Modern discovery tools, however, automatically discover and inventory assets on a continuous, ongoing basis.
Data reporting is the second phase of vulnerability management programs which focuses on the discovery of specific data points that showcase various outcomes that pertain to different audiences. These reports should be outlined in a tactical way that is associated with business-oriented risk metrics that can provide greater executives with more visibility on their network.
Businesses should opt to maintain a continuous and real-time monitoring and vulnerability analysis management process that quickly identifies potential breach risks before they become an issue. This type of reporting should be completed before a new feature is installed, during testing, and at set time variables following the implementation of said feature. Reporting on a per-feature basis can be near impossible to do on a one-off basis, therefore, it’s best to incorporate an automated AI tool to compile and analyze the raw data.
The goal of prioritization in a vulnerability management plan is to create a customized list of what you need to tackle in what order. The way to prioritize is based on the current state of the asset as it was defined during the discovery phase of the plan. Based on a predefined set of characteristics, you can rank your assets according to their known risks associated with their given value. This allows you to define how important it is to spend time and resources on mitigating risks related to the asset in the future. Creating this type of short list allows your team to focus on quickly eliminating the risk of exploitation by attackers.
The act of prioritizing your vulnerabilities should be carried out by an administrator with supreme knowledge of the entire web of the network infrastructure. Prioritization of efforts to remediate known asset vulnerabilities should be completed within 30 days of prioritization when they are of a high priority nature. Lower priority vulnerabilities can wait up to 90 days to be completely remediated. However, if any of your vulnerabilities could be exploited by an attacker via automated means, it should be remediated as soon as possible to avoid a complete network breach. If your team is unable to remediate a vulnerability within the associated timeframe, there needs to be a contingency plan in place to re-prioritize it at a higher level until remediation efforts are completed.
Threat management is a key feature to a vulnerability management program as risk is a main driver in the research and reporting of vulnerabilities. Being aware of what types of threats you face and the threat actors that you’re up against is key. Your team should be tapping into all types of threat intelligence sources while also acquiring knowledge about the tools, techniques and methods used by threat actors. This will allow you to fine tune your mechanisms for combating threats and threat actors that infringe on your network.
Make good use of your threat intelligence data by sharing it amongst your organization to enrich them in the shared experience. Carrying out this task in this fashion will ensure that it is shared amongst a large community with different groups that can share their unique opinions on how best to interact with and remediate certain threats. By collaborating on a single task (or series of tasks), your team can remove vulnerability roadblocks from your path and put them in the way of threat actors.
Incident Response Plans
Even though your vulnerability management plan is about deterring incidents from arising, it is always best to maintain a strong offense via an incident response plan in the case that threat actors slip through the cracks of your vulnerabilities. Configuring a plan of this nature calls for the outlining of your team’s intrusion detection and source logging capabilities. These key data points will allow them to conduct a thorough investigation into the source and scale of the intrusion. Configuring your incident response plan in this way will help you contain an incident while eliminating the actions of the attacker. Recovery will follow a report has been notated following the incident has been remediated and your team fully understands the good and bad of the situation which ensures that the incident does not repeat itself later down the road.
Risk Management Plan
Modern risk management plans must be formulated in a way that allows your organization to analyze and contextualize information related to the security state of an asset. Each risk must be analyzed across multiple attack vectors to allow your team to comprehensively address each global vulnerability that your assets are associated with. After the identification of global threats, your team must prescribe specific actions for prioritizing the remediation of each vulnerability.
Depending on the number of vulnerabilities that exist in your network, you might want to invest in an automated tool that doesn’t leave your IT team overwhelmed by the sheer volume of raw data that is being tossed around.
Even if your team is proactive with their bug management efforts, they still can’t fall asleep at the wheel when prioritizing the remediation efforts of vulnerabilities. This is why it’s best to isolate the severity of each vulnerability by using a points-based standard CVSS [Common Vulnerability Scoring System] scoring system to identify the importance of each vulnerability. Basically, the higher-CVSS score a vulnerability has, the higher up on the prioritization totem pole it needs to be. The CVSS score measures the level of access to network-attackable vulnerabilities and decides which patches to prepare for first and which hosts need patching the most.
Some organizations get caught up on only prioritizing vulnerability remediation efforts to assets that are associated with a high monetary value and a high CVSS score. This can be dangerous to assume that these assets should be prioritized first because even lower-level assets such as workstations can result in massive data breaches when they are combined with a poor security configuration. It is for this reason that organizations must consider network connections and configurations, not just servers that host their databases.
Remediation is the approach that organizations keen on risk reduction will need to address by either remediating, mitigating or accepting. Remediating a vulnerability is doing by focusing on correcting the flaw by means of a patch or alternative remediation efforts. Mitigating a vulnerability calls for the reduction of risk, but with these efforts, the risk remains intact following the completion of the mitigation process. An example of this would be to install a firewall to guard the vulnerability against a possible external breach. This is not preferred because the vulnerability remains and could be exploited if a threat actor were to obtain administrative access to the point where the vulnerability lies.
Risk acceptance is the least preferable option to take and should only be utilized when there is no other pertinent option available. The decision to accept the risks of a vulnerability might correspond with the proposed functionality deficiencies of an asset occurring if and when a patch was to be installed to rectify the risk.
At the end of the day, vulnerabilities must be remediated. Too many times have organizations sat back and accepted minimal vulnerabilities due to time or profit loss constraints only to have a massive data breach occur not long afterwards. Circumventing these threats by configuring an ironclad vulnerability management plan or program ensures that you can discover, report, and prioritize vulnerabilities before they become a breach. Through the implementation of an incident response plan as a contingency to your risk reduction efforts, your organization can employ a solid security stance no matter what threat actor tries to breach your network.