How To Implement An Effective Vulnerability Management Program
Vulnerability scanning is the procedure of identifying risks and vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT system. In addition, a good vulnerability management program also evaluates how severe each risk is, and identifies the best options to counteract the risks (remediation).
Once all risks have been identified and evaluated by automated scanning, the management decides which vulnerabilities must be addressed by remediation, and which can be accepted, since their risk score is low, or the potential damage resulting from a security breach would not be very severe.
Due to the recent growth of cyber attacks, vulnerability management has become more important than ever before, and every organization must have an effective program in place to secure their IT system and their digital data.
A good vulnerability management program (VMP) performs regular scans of an organization’s IT system, in order to keep the security system up-to-date and to enable it to deal with all current threats. Regular scanning is necessary because both IT systems, and the methods used by cybercriminals to attack them, are constantly evolving.
An effective VMP consists of four critical phases:
- Inventorying of assets
- Scanning of vulnerabilities
- Remediation of vulnerabilities
Step 1: Preparation
During the preparation phase, the first step is to identify which assets are most important to the company. These could be servers, networks, computers, critical data, etc.
Once all assets are listed in the order of importance they hold for the organization, the next step is to identify the owners of each asset. Defining asset owners is important because they will be the ones responsible for implementing the remediation of vulnerabilities.
As part of the preparation phase, it is necessary to decide how frequently you will scan your system. A high frequency of scanning is recommended (weekly, or even more frequently), to counteract new threats.
Finally, decide how you are going to deal with potential vulnerabilities. Set up timelines and ‘due dates’ for remediation, and brief the asset owners about their responsibilities if they are notified of a vulnerability in their asset.
Step 2: Set up an inventory of assets
To set up a complete inventory of your assets, it’s necessary to list all hardware devices as well as all software installed on those devices. It’s important to get a complete picture since any unauthorized devices or software added to your system can be exploited for cyber attacks.
You need be aware of PCs and wireless devices brought into the organization by employees, and any software they might install on company computers without informing the management.
As part of the inventory process, you can decide to ban all private devices and remove unauthorized software. This needs to be repeated regularly since the situation can change whenever new employees join the organization.
Once you have a complete inventory, you are ready to perform the vulnerability scan.
Step 3: Perform vulnerability scan
Now it’s time to perform the actual vulnerability scan. Be aware that some systems might be non-functional or sluggish during the scanning process.
If security risks are detected, most scanning tools provide detailed reports of the risks. This includes a severity score for each risk, as well as a list of potential options to remediate the vulnerability.
As soon as the vulnerability report is complete, make sure that the management is informed of any severe risks that are detected. Also, inform asset owners of risks found in their assets, and make sure they know how to deal with them.
Step 4: Remediation of vulnerabilities
Not all vulnerabilities have to be remediated. If your IT system is large and complex, a vulnerability scan is likely to detect a very long list of potential risks. Because of this, it’s necessary to prioritize risks that must be remediated, and those that can be accepted.
The vulnerability scan assigns a score to each risk that is detected. This score is calculated based on the following factors: how easy is it to exploit the weakness; how much damage successful exploitation would cause, and how long the vulnerability has existed.
The longer a specific vulnerability has existed, the more likely it becomes that hackers are actively exploiting it, which makes its remediation more urgent.
Usually, when an organization first starts performing vulnerability scanning, the initial risk scores are very high, indicating there are many severe risks. But with time, as remediation measures are put in place, the overall risk scores are reduced.
Organizations that implement effective VMP over many years can achieve very low average risk scores, making it harder and harder for cybercriminals to attack them.
Thus it’s important to see VMP as a continuous process, and that each successive VMP scan continues to improve the overall security of your organization.
Does your organization have an effective VMP in place to protect its IT system? If not, it’s essential to implement one as soon as possible if you want to stay ahead of cybercrime.
If you are unsure where to start, or want to learn more about how to build an effective VMP for your business, feel free to contact us for more information.