Vulnerability Management Program: What Makes it Good and What Does Success Look Like?

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Cybercrime isn’t going anywhere, and its impact continues to have devastating consequences for individuals and organizations across the globe. So much so, experts believe the global cost of cybercrime will reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.

Last year alone, over 22,500 new IT security vulnerabilities were identified, an increase of more than 2,000 compared to the previous year. Add to that the damage caused by recent breaches to open source code, such as Spring4Shell and Log4j, and security leaders everywhere should be prioritizing the strengthening of their vulnerability management strategy.

Yet, despite the sheer volume of new vulnerabilities that have emerged in recent years, the evidence would suggest that many organizations still overlook implementing a solid vulnerability management program. For example, according to a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, & Sport, 39% of UK businesses identified a cyberattack in 2022.

Here we examine the essential components of a solid vulnerability management program and the key metrics needed to measure success.

Vulnerability Management should be seen as critical to protecting business infrastructure. It’s a priority, not a box-ticking exercise.

What is Vulnerability Management, and what value does it add to organizations?

Vulnerability management is defined as the ongoing, regular process of identifying, assessing, reporting on, managing, and remediating cyber vulnerabilities across endpoints, workloads, and systems. Security teams will typically leverage a vulnerability management tool to identify vulnerabilities and utilize different processes to patch or remediate them.

Implementing a solid vulnerability management program can add significant value to an organization’s security strategy. It can help identify vulnerabilities in business infrastructure, including systems, applications, and networks, which allows security teams to take proactive steps to mitigate risks before they are exploited by attackers.

A successful vulnerability management program will allow remediations to be prioritized based on their potential impact on the business. This ensures that resources are allocated effectively and that critical vulnerabilities are addressed first. Identifying and remediating vulnerabilities reduces an organization’s attack surface, which makes it more difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access to systems or data.

Also, from a compliance perspective, many regulatory frameworks, and standards, such as PCI DSS and ISO 27001, require organizations to have a vulnerability management program in place. Ensuring your organization has implemented such a program helps meet regulatory requirements and avoid potential fines or penalties.

Implementing a successful vulnerability management program will improve an organization’s overall security posture.

Six key steps to creating a Vulnerability Management program

The basis of a strong vulnerability management program is threat intelligence and knowledge of IT and business operations. This means risk can be prioritized, and any vulnerabilities that have been detected can be addressed quickly. A solid vulnerability management program is comprised of six main elements, which are:

Asset discovery: Gathering an inventory of the corporate environment, including software, hardware, operating systems, and services. Its crucial asset registers are kept up-to-date.

Prioritize assets: Categorize assets based on risk level and their importance to your business. Agree on which assets should be assessed first. Software and hardware should be your priorities.

Vulnerability Assessment: Use vulnerability scanning tools to identify vulnerabilities and prioritize them based on their potential impact on your organization as well as the likelihood of them being exploited.

Remediate vulnerabilities: Develop a remediation plan and prioritize the vulnerabilities based on their criticality. Ensure that patches and updates are applied promptly and monitor suspicious behavior to reduce risk.

Monitor and report: Continuously monitor your environment for existing and emerging vulnerabilities. Keep a record of all vulnerabilities that have been identified and report progress to stakeholders.

Evaluate and improve: Regularly evaluate your security strategy to ensure the processes in place eliminate threats. This should be a continuous effort with regular scanning and assessments to deliver long-term effectiveness.

Adopting a continuous approach to vulnerability management will deliver value to your organization and strengthen your capabilities.

How do you measure the success of a Vulnerability Management program?

Like most processes within an organization, the success of a vulnerability management program should be measured against a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). This will help security teams gain a deeper understanding of the qualitative data being collected and shape future security strategies. But what are the key metrics your organization should be using to measure the success of your program?

Frequency of scanning: With new vulnerabilities emerging daily, adopting a periodic approach to scanning will put your organization at serious risk. Perform continuous scanning and identify vulnerabilities regularly.

Scanning and detection time: The time it takes to scan and detect vulnerabilities is crucial. The longer it takes, the harder the assessment and mitigation process will be.

Accuracy of scanning: False positives are arguably the most significant hazard security teams face. Ensuring scanning is accurate makes it easier for organizations to discover and eliminate vulnerabilities.

Prioritization based on risk: Gathering detailed insights into the vulnerabilities discovered within your network is key. Use the data to prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk potential, addressing the most severe first.

Remediation time: The longer it takes to remediate a vulnerability, the greater the risk to your organization. Adopting a fully-integrated vulnerability and patch management solution will speed up the remediation process.

Meaningful reporting: Create in-depth reports and conduct a detailed analysis of all known vulnerabilities. This will help deliver key learnings and bolster your organization’s ability to identify threats.

Implement a clear set of metrics to measure the success of your vulnerability management program. These will ensure optimum performance.

Implementing a vulnerability management program can not only help organizations identify and address vulnerabilities but also reduce the attack surface and deliver significant value. However, ensuring the program has been implemented properly and is continuously monitored is key to its success. Sporadic assessment isn’t enough. A regular, robust analysis is a must for all organizations. Without a solid vulnerability management program, you’re jeopardizing the future of your business and, more importantly, your customers.

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