The Vulnerability Management Lifecycle is a cybersecurity practice that helps fortify an organization’s readiness to anticipate and handle attacks.
In a nutshell, it provides the following advantages:
- Awareness of computer system vulnerabilities
- Prioritization of available assets
- Assessment and remediation of weaknesses
- Verification of threat elimination
As far as computer security is concerned, vulnerability is a flaw that enables an intruder to access a system. Before it becomes a threat, there have to be three elements present:
- A system weakness. This is a deficiency within the network that brings fragility to the system. Through this weakness, an attacker can find an opening to inflict harm on the network.
- Access to the weakness. The actual damage can start transitioning into reality once the intruder finds the specific opening to conduct the cyberattack.
- The ability to exploit the weakness. How an intruder launches the cyber assault can be through a technique or a tool. This may come in the form of malware or a brute force attack.
When all these three factors are present, there exists a vulnerability within the system. When neglected or taken for granted, this vulnerability is like a ticking time bomb that can cause significant damage.
The Stages of the Vulnerability Assessment Lifecycle
As a pillar of cybersecurity, vulnerability management is an intricate process that takes several steps to succeed. It typically evolves according to the growth of the network of the organization.
Here are the various stages of the process:
Discovery of Baseline
The first step is awareness. It is essential to do an inventory of all existing assets within the network. These include host details, operating systems and open services. The point is to create a network baseline that will be important in finding vulnerabilities on an automated schedule.
The baseline will be crucial in recognizing deviations from the norm. This is where most vulnerabilities emerge and originate.
The process proceeds through vulnerability scans and tests. This has to be thorough and must include all company assets. No devices should be left unturned and unscanned.
After gathering all the assets, rank their importance to the organization and determine who has access to these, whether a specific administrator or a team manages it.
Update this consistently to get a map of vulnerabilities throughout your network.
Locate the critical assets and identify the vulnerability program’s scope and standards and policies for information protection.
Refer to this checklist as you proceed:
- business processes
- applications and services
- critical assets
- network infrastructure map
- previous control systems
- assessment scope
- information protection process
Prioritization of Assets
Once assets have been classified in a baseline, it is essential to categorize these according to business units or groups. Put a business value to asset groups depending on how important they are to business operations.
There will be assets that are more valuable than others. Locate these critical assets to ensure the effectiveness of the prioritization.
Prioritize the assets that can deliver the most significant risks when neglected. Resolve these at the top of the totem pole.
With the assets organized and classified, the next stage is to do a proper assessment. Accomplish this by using a baseline risk profile to eliminate risks according to vulnerability threats.
Work through the most important aspects according to the fatality of the threats.
Vulnerability scans must be performed at this phase. It must be done in the operating system, web server, web application and other relevant services.
Examine the physical security of the assets. Locate any wrong configuration. Pinpoint human error. Prioritize the vulnerabilities and validate them as they happen.
The data gathered must be compiled in a custom report that outlines the various vulnerabilities and prioritizes and addresses them.
These will serve as recommendations on how to have a prompt and adequate response to any eventual problems.
These must include the step-by-step instructions that must be accomplished during troubleshooting. This is to significantly decrease the security risk that may emerge from these vulnerabilities.
The business risk must be measured according to the importance of the asset and the intricacies of the internal security policy. Document the security plan, and monitor any irregular activity that may emerge from the vulnerabilities. A malware analysis will be most helpful.
When reporting the vulnerabilities, classify them based on impact levels such as Low, Medium, and High.
Troubleshooting can proceed once the assets have been prioritized. Start with the riskiest. Controls must be established to express progress.
The essential processes here include the monitoring of vulnerabilities, assignment of tickets and the management of exceptions.
When vulnerabilities have been monitored, it is now time to correct and oversee them.
Steps that can be done towards these objectives include updating of relevant patches and updates. This must be repeated when new vulnerabilities are found.
All the network devices must be regularly monitored and detected to keep up with the growing and evolving threats.
Any attempt at remediation should follow a Plan of Actions and Milestones. When troubleshooting a device, check its ease of fix, the severity of findings, and the device’s criticality to the operations.
Highs should be remediated within 30 days or before your next monthly scan. Moderates can be handled within 90 days. Lows can be allocated to a maximum of a year or 365 days.
To avoid downtime, evaluate the patches and configuration changes in a test environment before being pushed into production. This can save valuable time and resources.
When the vulnerabilities have been identified and resolved, there must be consistent follow-up audits to ensure they won’t happen again. This is the verification stage.
The success of the process must be double-checked. It maintains transparency and accountability over the process — a means to check if the mitigation is working.
Verification helps reduce the attack surface of a company and minimizes the impact of cyberattacks.
This is also a means of feedback to check if the previous phases have been successfully implemented. Dynamic analysis and attack surface verification are essential in this phase.
The Importance of the Vulnerability Management Lifecycle
Organizations rely on their networks and systems more than ever. It is crucial for daily operations, financial transactions, and reputational stability, requiring a strong defense.
The adage “a chain is as strong as its weakest link” resonates in this situation. A robust vulnerability management program can withstand the latest cyber attack trends. But if it neglects a vulnerability, things can spiral into ruin quickly.
This is why risk mitigation should be prompt and timely to avoid unnecessary expenses and reputational damage.
With the stealthy nature of cyberattacks, they can infiltrate data systems without raising any alarms. If the assessment is not regular and comprehensive, it can subject the company to unnecessary risks.
Here are some of the significant benefits of the vulnerability program:
Regular Patches and Updates
A routine check for vulnerabilities will lead to frequent upgrades for patches. This helps the system stay on top of emerging threats that develop in the realm of cybersecurity.
Turning a blind eye on these updates can prove unproductive in the long run. There may be a significant problem that will emerge and infect the system that could have been avoided by simply installing a patch.
Defense Against Advanced Attacks
Cyberattacks have grown in complexity. A regular vulnerability management program will provide a fortified defense against advanced threats.
Attacks are becoming more specific with surgical precision, finding loopholes and gaps in target networks. A robust program will always seal any vulnerability before any exploitation can happen.
Studying the vulnerability lifecycle gives more awareness about relevant government regulations that organizations must comply with.
These legal requirements cannot be neglected as they will put the organization in a position to suffer significant reputational damage and exorbitant fees.
Vulnerability management lifecycle brings urgency to an organization regarding regulations.
It creates a proactive strategy for risk mitigation.
The Value of Continuity
Although the stages of vulnerability management are clearly outlined, it is easier said than done. It takes perseverance, patience and precision to stay on top of vulnerabilities.
Consistency and continuity are vital to this undertaking. This is essential to stay updated on all emerging threats.
The mindset of the team in charge of vulnerability management is essential as well. They must adopt the standards well so that the day-to-day operations will work without a glitch.
A proactive approach is best to anticipate problems before they happen. This is always better than constant remediation, saving resources before they are wasted on unnecessary responses.
Automation can also be an alternative to save valuable resources and to avoid human error in repetitive monitoring tasks.
The Advantage of Prioritization
The ideal is to fix and remediate all vulnerabilities as they happen within company assets. But in reality, this is difficult. The undertaking will overload the system and end up frustrating the security experts.
To counter this problem, prioritization is a significant move. This can be achieved by studying the guidelines carefully, clearly understanding which vulnerabilities should be remediated or not.
This is on a per case basis and will be different across various organizations and industries. The primary factors for prioritization include the assets of the company and how the industry operates in general.
The Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP)
Vulnerabilities can be defined internally by the organization itself. It comes with identifying what is vital within the daily operations.
But the emerging trend is an open, standards-based effort that persists across various industries. This is the Security Content Automation Protocol or SCAP. It is a set of guidelines developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The SCAP can be divided into at least four major components:
- Common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVE). The CVE is the parameter that defines a vulnerability according to when it may occur.
- Common configuration enumeration (CCE). The CCE is an enumeration of security configuration issues used as a reference for configuration guidance.
- Common platform enumeration (CPE). The CPE is a set of standard methods that identify and describe applications, devices, and operating systems within the organization’s digital environment. They are used to describe what a CVE or CCE is applied to.
- Common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS). The CVSS is a scoring system that provides values and degrees of defined vulnerabilities. It is used to prioritize assets and resources that require remediation. The range is typically pegged between 0 to 10, with ten being the most fatal or severe.
Trust the Experts
Threats are ever-evolving. It is not enough to leave it up to chance when cybersecurity is at stake. Understanding the vulnerability lifecycle of systems is crucial to bolstering defense against these incidents.
The assurance of professional guidance goes a long way in protecting vital data. RSI Security has years of experience in implementing cost-efficient vulnerability management and data protection.
Our team of experts can provide consistent intelligence towards data, software, applications and networks to identify, investigate and respond to vulnerabilities.
RSI Security works towards risk reduction by doing an asset inventory and target classification. Continuous monitoring against emerging threats is always implemented as well as analysis using the perspective of the perpetrator.
Through an iterative process, RSI Security can provide expert assistance and recommendations in crafting standards, policies, best practices and specifications. This leads to a robust vulnerability management program that can withstand the harshest of cybersecurity threats.