The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous stress on information security professionals. A threat landscape that was already growing more complex by the minute now presents an even more fearsome challenge, as cybersecurity budgets are strained, and millions of workers have shifted to telecommuting on a full- or part-time basis.
Where are organizations going wrong in terms of vulnerability management?
From the get-go, too many organizations have an outdated idea of what vulnerability management entails. It’s not simply about scanning your networks for threats.
A holistic approach to vulnerability management includes identifying, reporting, assessing and prioritizing exposures. Crucially, it also involves risk context. Instead of merely scanning for security gaps, a comprehensive approach to vulnerability management shows you how those gaps could be exploited and the consequences that could occur.
It’s then accurate to say that vulnerability management – when executed correctly – takes a big picture approach where all aspects work harmoniously to reduce risk to business-critical assets. That is the goal for which we should all strive.
But even if you begin from correct first principles, you can still fail when it comes to implementation. With that in mind, below we’ve highlighted three of the most significant problems that organizations face when managing vulnerabilities.
Failing to properly prioritize threats
An inability to properly rank exposures is one of the most damaging problems that organizations currently face within the context of vulnerability management. Too many organizations identify security gaps via scanning, then proceed directly to the remediation phase. On some level, that kind of urgency is understandable. Ultimately, however, it is short-sighted and creates more risk.
Smart organizations dedicate plenty of focus to the prioritization and reporting phases of vulnerability management. Failing to prioritize effectively can lead to wasted time and resources, as teams race to address exposures that pose no real risk to business-critical assets.
Even worse, it leaves organizations vulnerable in the worst possible ways. A better way to proceed is to focus on the one percent of exposures that can be exploited. When done correctly, this level of prioritization can eliminate 99-percent of risk to business-sensitive systems.
The best way to benefit from this approach to prioritization? Use a cutting-edge attack patch management solution that prioritizes exposures using critical, attack-centric risk context. A tool that goes beyond limited CVSS scoring and shows the full picture: how likely each vulnerability is to be exploited and the risk each exploit poses to your “crown jewel” assets.
Not using a continuous approach
An effective vulnerability management program is ongoing rather than episodic. If enterprises do not take a continuous approach, they will struggle to control the flow of vulnerabilities and build up “vulnerability debt.” That’s a serious problem.
Given how hard it already is to stay on top of emerging vulnerabilities, working with a continual backlog of security issues to address can make the entire situation untenable. Instead of irregular scanning and remediation, use an ongoing approach that is centered around continuous and automated vulnerability identification. This is one of the keys to developing a security posture that is defined by continuous improvement.
Poor communication and unclear organizational structure
When security teams do not have clear lines of communication and the right organizational structure problems are almost certain to slip through the cracks. Too often team members do not have defined roles and they do not understand where they fit within the overall vulnerability management framework, particularly in terms of responsibilities.
When team members have clear roles defined with well-articulated responsibilities, they can work and collaborate effectively. Instead of working in isolation and missing the greater picture, each person can endeavor to meet their responsibilities and achieve their specific objectives – all the while knowing how their work relates to the roles and responsibilities of others.
This need for communication extends to the C-suite as well. It’s important that the company’s leadership understand and are invested in the program, given how strong cybersecurity has become a critical strategic objective.
Vulnerability management problems: The takeaway
The consequences of failing to effectively manage cyber vulnerabilities have never been higher. One data breach can lead to crippling reputational and financial damage, and the number of breaches continues to rise, without fail, every year. Truly, vulnerability management has left the realm of being just another IT expense – it should be a key business objective.
To make that a reality, it’s imperative to understand that vulnerability management should be an ongoing, multi-stage process. It’s also essential to address the problems that snare so many otherwise smart IT departments: poor prioritization, an episodic approach to managing vulnerabilities and a lack of organization and communication among teams and leaders.
The right approach can pay massive dividends in terms of avoiding these pitfalls. As mentioned above, the best thing you can do is to incorporate powerful vulnerability management tools that offer proper prioritization guidance and critical risk context.
Once your underlying strategy is sound and you’re armed with the right tools, your enterprise will be far ahead of most of your competitors when it comes to protecting your most valuable assets.