With data breaches and system disruptions rising as a result of cyberattacks every year, companies and businesses are as vulnerable as ever. And because of these weak spots, we must take a proactive approach to security to strengthen these pain points and stop cyberattacks in their tracks.
When we talk of vulnerabilities in the IT world, we’re referring to the areas of business that leave your systems open to threats – whether it’s external attacks or internal errors that expose company data. And since it only takes one missed vulnerability for a cyberattack to occur, you and your staff have to be as vigilant as possible before threats mount up and cause real damage.
A programme of vulnerability management is therefore crucial in stemming the tide. To underline the importance of vulnerability management within your own organisation, here we’ll detail what it is and why it’s so important, along with some practical tips you can use to build your own vulnerability management programme.
What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management is the practice of finding and fixing potential weaknesses in an organisation’s network security. The central goal is to apply these fixes before an attacker can use them to cause a cybersecurity breach.
What does a programme of vulnerability look like?
Before we get into any kind of specifics, it’s worth noting that there’s no standardised method of building a vulnerability management programme. The methodology of creating such programmes will vary from organisation to organisation, depending on available resources and the specific risks they face.
Nevertheless, the broad strokes of vulnerability management’s phases resemble the following:
- Discovering: The identification and evaluation of your IT estate’s assets. This involves looking at all hardware and software connected to your network and determining how up to date and secure it is.
- Reporting: The second phase involves compiling a detailed report of all assets connected to your network to clearly show which systems are most vulnerable. Such systems tend to be those that are unsupported or require patching, especially if they’re connected to critical data.
- Prioritising: Here, you and your team should focus on and address the most urgent vulnerabilities first. While these will vary across businesses, it’s a good idea to prioritise vulnerabilities which pose significant risks but are not vastly expensive or time-consuming to fix.
There may also be flaws that you choose not to address (whether this is due to affordability or low-risk reasons), but it’s important to keep them on your radar should things change.
- Responding: When you’ve prioritised things, you need to quickly and effectively fix critical vulnerabilities, whether it’s installing updates or overhauling both software and hardware equipment.
Why is vulnerability management important?
Consider all the gaps in your network; these are prime opportunities for attackers to damage assets, trigger denials of service, and steal potentially sensitive information. And what’s more, cybercriminals are always looking for new vulnerabilities to be exploited, as well as taking advantage of old vulnerabilities that you may have failed to patch.
A programme of vulnerability management that checks for new vulnerabilities plays a huge role in preventing these attacks from taking place. Without any kind of system in place, old security gaps may be left on the network for extended periods, creating prime opportunities for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities and carry out attacks.
And with businesses being online more than ever before, IT estates have become more complex and thus more difficult to secure. Digital transformation, increasing innovations in order to remain relevant, and the rise of remote working all contribute to creating gaps in security.
With regards to the latter, the lack of a firewalled, central IT-monitored network and the difficulties of enforcing IT best practices can have a huge effect on attempting to reduce vulnerabilities.
So, as the ways in which we work continue to change, the importance of vulnerability management increases accordingly. It’s imperative that businesses stay a step ahead of threats at all times.
Additionally, vulnerability management is important because it’s required to achieve compliance with regulations and industry standards such as the International Organisation for Standardisation’s ISO 27001, Information Security Management Systems (ISMS).
ISO 27001, one of the most widely used standards, provides guidance on cybersecurity management, including vulnerability management, as well as information security risk assessment and risk management.
Building a vulnerability management programme
When it comes to establishing a vulnerability management framework in your organisation, you’ve a few different options. You can create the programme internally, or you can opt to use a vulnerability management service from a managed security service provider (MSSP).
If you opt for the former, then there are a few factors you should keep in mind:
- Inventory management: Keeping track of your inventory of assets ensures you’ve verified and addressed all vulnerabilities in your network. If there are unknown assets on the network, then you’ll also have unpatched vulnerabilities from that asset.
- Patch management: Consider how you’ll deliver security patches to your network assets. When are these patches going to be applied? And will you have to disable some or all of your network to apply the necessary fixes to your prioritised vulnerabilities?
- Vulnerability scanning solutions: Keeping a suite of vulnerability scanning tools for detecting weaknesses and logging them for future fixes is essential. Likewise, checking external network assets (such as vendor networks, cloud-based applications and external servers) with vulnerability scanners also plays a key role in vulnerability testing.
- Risk assessment: When you’re allocating resources to patch management, you’ll need to identify the biggest security risks to your network. Which vulnerabilities are easy to fix, but are ones which could leave a lasting impact on your network security?
If you choose to go with a vulnerability management service, then the service provider probably already has a robust set of tools and an experienced team well-versed with handling vulnerability and patch management plan build-outs. This puts you in a stronger position to address the security gaps in your organisation.
Many organisations choose to go with this route since it’s easier to deploy and manage. Plus, it does away with the need to add dedicated internal staff to the payroll, reducing the overall cost of your company’s vulnerability management.
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