Understanding the Importance of Vulnerability Management

January 16, 2020 Eric Dosal Eric Dosal

4 Min Read

In a lot of the articles that I and the other members of the Compuquip team have posted to the blog, we’ve brought up the term “vulnerability management” fairly frequently. Yet, we haven’t done a post specifically defining the term or explaining the importance of vulnerability management.

To help you establish the importance of vulnerability management within your own organization, here is a quick explanation of what vulnerability and patch management is, why it’s important, and some quick tips for building a vulnerability management program:

What Are Vulnerabilities, Threats, and Exploits in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities, threats, and exploits are terms that sometimes get used interchangeably—despite having distinct meanings from one another. Before explaining vulnerability management, it's important to know what vulnerabilities, threats, and exploits all mean in cybersecurity terms:

  • Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities. In cybersecurity, a vulnerability is a potential weakness in a security architecture that opens an organization or individual to cyberattacks.

  • Cybersecurity Threats. The term "cybersecurity threat" refers to combination of tools and methods involved in a cyberattack. These threats are not inherent to the network. Instead, they leverage vulnerabilities on the network.

  • Cybersecurity Exploits. Exploits can be defined as when a cybersecurity threat is applied to a vulnerability to conduct some form of malicious activity. Impacts of these exploits may vary by threat and vulnerability type.

The challenge of dealing with cybersecurity vulnerabilities, exploits, and threats is that they are always changing. Every day, new vulnerabilities and exploits are discovered, which then prompt attackers to create new cyber threats that take advantage of them. Vulnerability management processes, such as vulnerability testing and patch management, are crucial for blunting new cybersecurity threats as they arise.

What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is the practice of proactively finding and fixing potential weaknesses in an organization's network security. The basic goal is to apply these fixes before an attacker can use them to cause a cybersecurity breach.

Of course, the above isn't the only definition of vulnerability management. For example, CSO Online defines vulnerability management as “the process of staying on top of vulnerabilities so the fixes can be more frequent and effective.” Meanwhile, TechTarget.com defines it as “a comprehensive approach to the development of a system of practices and processes designed to identify, analyze and address flaws in hardware or software that could serve as attack vectors.”

It's important to note that there is no standardized method of building a vulnerability management program. So, the methodology behind a vulnerability management system may vary from one organization to the next depending on available resources and specific risks they face.

Why is Having a Vulnerability Management Process Important?

Network vulnerabilities represent security gaps that could be abused by attackers to damage network assets, trigger a denial of service, and/or steal potentially sensitive information. Attackers are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities to exploit—and taking advantage of old vulnerabilities that may have gone unpatched.

Having a vulnerability management framework in place that regularly checks for new vulnerabilities is crucial for preventing cybersecurity breaches. Without a vulnerability testing and patch management system, old security gaps may be left on the network for extended periods of time. This gives attackers more of an opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities and carry out their attacks.

One statistic that highlights how crucial vulnerability management was featured in an Infosecurity Magazine article. According to survey data cited in the article, of the organizations that “suffered a breach, almost 60% were due to an unpatched vulnerability.” In other words, nearly 60% of the data breaches suffered by survey respondents could have been easily prevented simply by having a vulnerability management plan that would apply critical patches before attackers leveraged the vulnerability.

Building a Vulnerability Management Program

What can you do to create or establish an IT vulnerability management framework in your own organization? There are a couple of ways to build out a vulnerability management program: creating the program internally or using a vulnerability management service from a managed security service provider (MSSP).

When building a vulnerability management program internally, there are several factors that you will need to account for:

  • Inventory Management. You can’t patch what you don’t know you have. Tracking your inventory of assets is crucial for verifying that you have addressed all vulnerabilities in your network. If you have an unknown asset on the network, then you will have unpatched vulnerabilities from that asset.

  • Patch Management. How will you deliver security patches to your network assets? When will patches be applied? Will you have to disable some or all of your network to apply fixes to your major vulnerabilities?

  • Vulnerability Scanning Solutions. How will you check for vulnerabilities? It’s important to have a comprehensive suite of vulnerability scanning tools for detecting weaknesses and logging them for future fixes. Checking external network assets (such as vendor networks, cloud-based applications, and external servers) with vulnerability scanners is also crucial for modern vulnerability testing.

  • Risk Assessment. What are the biggest security risks revealed during penetration testing? When allocating resources to patch management, it is important to prioritize the easiest to fix vulnerabilities that have the biggest impact on your network security. For example, if there was a vulnerability that could be fixed with less than 15 minutes of work, but would cost you $1 million if an attack leveraged it, that would take priority over a minor bug that would take hours to fix and not affect any critical systems if exploited.

One of the fastest ways to build a vulnerability management process is to use a vulnerability management service. The service provider likely already has a robust set of tools and an experienced team that is used to handling vulnerability and patch management plan build-outs. This helps them build a better vulnerability management system to address security gaps in your organization.

Many organizations decide to use a dedicated vulnerability management service because of how much easier they are to deploy and manage. Plus, it eliminates the need to add dedicated internal staff to the payroll—which helps reduce the cost of vulnerability management.

Need help building an IT vulnerability management program? Reach out to the experts at Compuquip Cybersecurity today to learn more!