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What Is Vulnerability Management?

By: David Baugh

Vulnerability management is an essential piece of any effective information security program.

Vulnerability management is a continuous, cyclical process of identifying, classifying, and addressing digital vulnerabilities and threats. Along with other information security tactics like identity & access management and security awareness, vulnerability management is an essential piece of protecting an organization’s customers, business interests, and reputation.

In this day and age, it is rare for an organization to operate without any sort of vulnerability management program in place, and while the specific tools and components of these programs vary from organization to organization, vulnerability management can be broken down into four key steps: identification, evaluation, addressing, and reporting.

1. Identifying Vulnerabilities

Scanning for vulnerabilities is the first step of any vulnerability management program. It is important to note, however, that vulnerability scanning is an ongoing process — while the “steps” of vulnerability management are numbered, they should ideally all occur simultaneously.

Vulnerability scans should be run quite frequently. Scanners are able to identify systems and devices running on a network — from laptops and desktops to firewalls and databases — and probe them for attributes such as user accounts, open ports, and installed software to identify potential sources of vulnerability.

Vulnerability scans need to be tailored to function seamlessly within an organization’s workflows, as vulnerability scanners can disrupt the networks they are scanning, especially if available bandwidth is low. Similarly, some systems can become unstable or behave erratically when being scanned, so scans should be scheduled for off-peak hours whenever possible. Adaptive scanners can make these adjustments automatically, which is why many large organizations opt for this kind of smart scanning solution.

2. Evaluating Vulnerabilities

Once vulnerabilities have been identified, they must be evaluated immediately in order to clarify — and mitigate — any risks they pose. Typically, vulnerability management solutions will provide precise risk ratings, which can guide organizations in determining which vulnerabilities to address first.

However, organizations should not exclusively rely on their vulnerability management solution’s ratings when choosing how and when to address their risks. It is vital to consider how difficult a vulnerability would be to exploit as well as the potential impact to the business were it to be exploited. You know your organization better than a software solution does, so a holistic approach to vulnerability management is always well-advised.

3. Addressing Vulnerabilities

After your organization has pinpointed a vulnerability that has been deemed a high risk, it is important to address the vulnerability quickly, effectively, and appropriately. Generally speaking, there are two ways to address a vulnerability: remediation or mitigation. Remediation is the process of fully repairing a vulnerability, which is typically the preferable approach. Conversely, mitigation involves putting a temporary fix in place in the event that the time and resources for a full repair are not currently available.

When a vulnerability has been remediated or mitigated, it is wise to perform another vulnerability scan to ensure that the vulnerability has been sufficiently addressed for the time being.

4. Reporting on Vulnerabilities

Regular vulnerability assessments help organizations develop an improved understanding of their vulnerability management and broader information security programs. But gaining a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s vulnerabilities requires careful and consistent reporting.

Most vulnerability management solutions offer data visualization dashboards that help organizations tailor their responses over time, but in the absence of sufficient reporting and analysis, these dashboards will not give stakeholders a complete view of their security landscape.

A Partner in Vulnerability Management

Because the effectiveness of vulnerability management solutions depends largely on their suitability for your organization, many companies benefit from partnering with an expert consulting team to build out a bespoke solution.

SEI is a boutique consulting firm staffed with expert practitioners who have years of experience in their specialties. What is more, because we utilize a unique local model, all our consultants have the time and resources to get to know your organization as if it was their own — and build solutions that truly address your organization’s needs.

To learn more about how SEI can help your organization manage its vulnerabilities, contact us today.

David Baugh

Consultant

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