The 5 Stages of Vulnerability Management

Even the most vigilant and conscious IT security teams can reel under the high volume and sophistication of cyberattacks. Maintaining enterprise-wide cybersecurity needs a deep understanding of risks and vulnerabilities, the current threat environment, and the most effective methods and technologies for addressing these threats.

So how can enterprises arm themselves with the necessary insights required for ironclad cybersecurity? With a systematic and well-charted vulnerability management process that channels their security dollars to the technologies and strategies that matter most.

Let’s look at the five stages of an effective vulnerability management process.

Stage 1: Identifying Vulnerabilities

This stage involves identifying and classifying vulnerabilities, and reporting known vulnerabilities present in the organization’s IT infrastructure.

IT security practitioners create an inventory of all the IT assets and endpoints – such as operating systems, containers, virtual machines, servers, routers, firewalls, laptops, open ports, third-party apps, etc. – focusing on the ones actively connected to the enterprise network. This mapping helps them enhance system and network security because they can now easily discover which endpoints/ systems/ devices are protected and which are prone to attacks.

They can also use the vulnerability management solution to collect metrics from endpoint agents and systems. This helps them detect new and unknown threats immediately, at the most granular level, and get a wider view of the attack surface exposed to cyberattacks. This vulnerability identification stage is crucial to help check poor patch management, spot weak credentials application vulnerabilities, identify targeted phishing, and weed out unsound security policies. It is also important because cyber-attackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerable systems that will grant them easy access into an organization’s network.

Stage 2: Evaluating Vulnerability Impact

Once vulnerabilities have been identified, the next stage is to evaluate the degree of risk and impact of these vulnerabilities.

In this stage, IT security practitioners can provide a better context of the threat exposure based on the threat intelligence collected in stage one. A solid cybersecurity strategy should connect business impact with the enterprise security posture. Vulnerability assessment is an important aspect of this strategy to help spot where the true risks exist, and how they should be addressed effectively.

IT teams can build a deeper understanding of mission-critical processes – focusing on those that are critical and sensitive in terms of compliance, customer privacy and business operations – and the underlying infrastructure to assess the impact of a cyberattack. After ranking business processes in terms of mission criticality and vulnerability, the next step is to identify the applications that will impact these mission-critical processes. These actions require collaboration between IT teams and business units, the finance department, and the legal team as well.

Stage 3: Identify Controls

In the third stage, IT teams identify all the security tools and measures that already exist, such as security policies, firewalls, threat detection and prevention systems, VPNs, encryption, and so on. It is important to understand the key features and capabilities of these tools and which vulnerabilities they can address effectively.

Stage 4: Remediation

In this stage IT teams focus on prioritizing and mitigating the vulnerabilities they’ve spotted in order of the level of risk they pose to the business. There are some basic methods to treat these vulnerabilities, with patching being the most common one. Professionals use patching to remediate large portions of vulnerabilities discovered in applications and software. There are chances that a software or application vendor has not yet issued a patch for a specific vulnerability, which compels cybersecurity teams to instead use mitigation measures – limited user permissions, blacklisting etc. – to reduce the impact of a possible exploitation.

A counterintuitive vulnerability management tactic is acceptance, which essentially means not taking any action to eliminate vulnerabilities. But this works only for low-risk vulnerabilities that pose minimal impact to the business, or when the cost of remediation is more than the possible cost of an exploitation. At the end of the remediation stage, IT security professionals also conduct follow-up audits to ensure that all weaknesses and threats have been eliminated, and that new ones were not created.

Stage 5: Reporting

It goes without saying that it is important to document all vulnerabilities that have been discovered along with a detailed security plan that explains how to monitor threat activity and mitigate these vulnerabilities. This stage is critical because it documents the way businesses can improve their response to cyberattacks in the future and will be used as reference for compliance audits. Intelligent, AI-driven vulnerability management tools help cybersecurity teams auto-generate these reports encapsulating several layers of data.

Summing up

IT heads and CISOs cannot stress enough on the need to get cybersecurity basics right, but many still struggle to build an impenetrable vulnerability management system. They are easily stumped by the sheer number of vulnerabilities that need attention, the speed that’s needed to remediate them, or the extent of resources required to be effective. But this can become easier by following each stage of the vulnerability management process of identifying, assessing, and prioritizing security vulnerabilities across systems, workloads, and endpoints, and delving into remediation and reporting.

With the rapid growth of a connected ecosystem in the enterprise, businesses will continue to face cybersecurity threats in the future. But a well-designed and managed vulnerability management system will make it easier to identify and mitigate existing threats and be prepared for emerging ones.

By Jayanth Varma, Founder

CEO/Founder of AlertFusion. We aim to improve the productivity of our customers by tackling the challenges faced by their analysts day in and day out. We do this through centralising alerts, eliminating rework, and retaining key knowledge.