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Vulnerability Management Best Practices

11 essential best practices every organization should start with

Wiz Experts Team
8 min read

Vulnerability management: A refresher  

Vulnerability management is a key component of enterprise cybersecurity architecture. It focuses on identifying, managing, and remediating various vulnerabilities in IT environments. Some of these security vulnerabilities include misconfigured cloud applications and unpatched software. 

These vulnerabilities pose serious security risks, because exposed, overprivileged, and penetrable IT assets can increase the likelihood of attacks from cybercriminals. If you don’t address them, you’re leaving the door wide open. Employing a robust vulnerability management process is one way to rectify the situation.

A typical vulnerability management process features a five-step lifecycle: discover, prioritize, remediate, validate, and report. Vulnerability management can strengthen your overall security posture, prevent data breaches and leaks, enhance operational efficiency, empower developers and other teams, and improve compliance for cloud-based businesses of all scales and backgrounds.

Vulnerability management best practices and recommendations

The essential vulnerability management best practices that every organization should start with are:

  1. Discover, prioritize, remediate, validate, report

  2. Establish a vulnerability management program and put it into use

  3. Secure your cloud-native applications with end-to-end views

  4. Configure policies

  5. Assess vulnerabilities in build time and deployment time

  6. Leverage vulnerability management tools

  7. Choose highly integrable vulnerability management solutions

  8. Map all assets and assess exposure

  9. Fuel vulnerability management lifecycles with threat data

  10. Champion cross-team collaboration for vulnerability remediation

  11. Integrate with other enterprise security solutions

1. Discover, prioritize, remediate, validate, report

Every step in a vulnerability management lifecycle is critical. Therefore, your vulnerability management solution shouldn’t neglect any of these five steps:

StepDescription
1. DiscoverThe first step is to map each component within the IT environment that's susceptible to vulnerabilities. Create a comprehensive inventory of all digital assets, detect shadow IT, and engage in continuous monitoring.
2. PrioritizeOnce the landscape is mapped out, it's vital to prioritize detected vulnerabilities based on threat intelligence and real-time data. This includes risk management to assess which vulnerability poses the greatest threat, evaluate the impact on business goals and overall strategy, and regulatory requirements.
3. RemediateKickstart the remediation process, beginning with the most critical issues first. This involves developing a strategic remediation plan encompassing patching, decommissioning, and reconfiguring vulnerable assets. Engaging various departments during the remediation process is important to ensure synergy and rapid response.
4. ValidateAfter remediation, it's crucial to validate the measures' efficacy. Organizations must verify thoroughly that the remediation efforts successfully resolved the vulnerabilities. It's also vital to stay vigilant and identify potential new vulnerabilities that may have emerged during the remediation phase. Establishing a feedback loop will ensure continuous learning and improvement.
5. ReportFinally, foster a culture of transparency and continuous improvement by documenting all the processes and outcomes in detailed reports. These comprehensive reports will help create a cohesive enterprise approach to vulnerability management and help analyze trends and forecast potential future vulnerabilities, enabling proactive defense.

2. Establish a vulnerability management program and put it into use

When you’re dealing with vulnerability management, one thing is certain: your vulnerability management must be highly contextual and holistic. 

Enterprises should go beyond traditional vulnerability management solutions that focus solely on identification and remediation and choose solutions that address vulnerabilities in order of criticality and business context. Your organization must establish a powerful framework to ensure that vulnerability management measures are part of a comprehensive and connected security program. 

The program should encompass every stage of a vulnerability management lifecycle. This includes: 

  • the identification of vulnerabilities across clouds and workloads

  • prioritization based on business context and scoring systems

  • remediation

  • program optimization with insights from reports

  • bound by business-specific KPIs

Holistic vulnerability management programs are paramount because threat actors such as the Lazarus Group exploit vulnerabilities in Windows Internet Information Services (ISS) to gain initial access into enterprise IT environments. Gaining initial access is rarely a dramatic event, but it can mature into large-scale cybersecurity disasters. 

Source: The Good, The Bad, and The Vulnerable Report

3. Secure your cloud-native applications with end-to-end views

Having poor visibility into your cloud environment is playing with fire. Here's why. 

The granular scalability of cloud computing means that IT environments are more complex than ever. Your organization must ensure complete and continuous coverage of cloud-native resources such as virtual machines, containers, registries, serverless architecture, virtual appliances, and ephemeral and managed compute resources. Similarly, all corresponding lifecycles and processes must be automatically scanned to identify CISA KEV vulnerabilities and other risks like hidden log4j dependencies.

Every instance of vulnerability identification and remediation should be double-checked and validated to ensure that recognized risks have been successfully mitigated and that no new vulnerabilities and unknown risks were introduced during remediation. Reporting mechanisms should be in place to document vulnerability management activities. Insights generated from this data can be crucial to further optimize your vulnerability management posture.

A lack of end-to-end views can cause hidden vulnerabilities to fester. Our researchers identified a vulnerability in Azure Active Directory (AAD) that exposed Bing.com and could have facilitated access for threat actors. Further red teaming of this vulnerability, dubbed #BingBang, revealed that it can be leveraged to alter Bing.com search results and exfiltrate the Office 365 credentials of Bing users.  

4. Configure policies

Vulnerability management policies need to address organization-specific vulnerabilities and cybersecurity circumstances without neglecting industry benchmarks. No organization should resort to using default policy configurations. This is because default policy configurations rarely address an organization’s nuanced business-, region-, and industry-specific requirements.  

The most effective way to fulfill internal and external policy requirements is to choose vulnerability management solutions that offer highly customizable security policy options. Your vulnerability management solution should enable you to customize policies that address every business, security, and compliance complexity that may surface.

5. Assess vulnerabilities in build time and deployment time

If you wait until deployment to sort out vulnerabilities, you've got your work cut out for you. Always tackle vulnerabilities early. 

Vulnerability management policies, processes, and practices should be configured in a manner that addresses vulnerabilities in both build time and deployment time. Scanning CI/CD pipelines and container registries can help identify and remediate critical vulnerabilities before deployment. All known and unknown risks, vulnerabilities, dependencies, and misconfigurations in the build and deployment phases must be cataloged to optimize future analyses and assessments. 

According to the Google Cloud-commissioned 2022 Accelerate State of DevOps Report, integrating vulnerability scanning tools into CI processes enhanced the chances of identifying and remediating software vulnerabilities and dependencies. By conducting in-depth vulnerability assessments in build time, the risks associated with deployment time can be greatly reduced. 

6. Leverage vulnerability management tools

You might hear the phrase “tools don’t matter” thrown around a lot. It doesn’t quite apply to vulnerability management, and there’s evidence to support the fact that vulnerability management tools are critical. 

The quality of vulnerability management tools can have a direct impact on your chances of experiencing a data breach. According to Ponemon Institute's Costs and Consequences of Gaps in Vulnerability Response report, nearly half of the surveyed enterprises have suffered a data breach. Sixty percent of respondents claimed that their data breach was caused by an unpatched known vulnerability. Sixty-two percent didn't even know that they were vulnerable. Had vulnerability management tools been in place, the majority of these attacks could have been stopped. 

Although it may seem like a no-brainer to focus security efforts on online workloads, this strategy can backfire. The safer route is to tackle vulnerabilities before they catch the attention of potential attackers. As such, treating both staging and production environments with the same security gravitas is important. A solid agentless scanner can be a game changer for security teams, letting them resolve potential issues before they are online. 

Pro tip

Traditional VM tools only produce simple table-based reports with only a basic snapshot of vulnerabilities at a given time. Advanced vulnerability management solutions consolidate information from multiple scans and provide information on what has changed over time.

Learn more

Enterprises are likely to be overwhelmed by the abundance of vulnerability management tools available in the market. It’s important to evaluate the complexity of your IT environment, the depth of assessments required, the surrounding threat landscape, cybersecurity budgets, and compliance needs when selecting a vulnerability management tool.  

7. Choose highly integrable vulnerability management solutions

Many recommendations emphasize the exciting capabilities of new security programs and practices but gloss over your existing IT and cybersecurity architecture. 

Your vulnerability management solution needs to be integrated with your existing IT environment and cybersecurity infrastructure. It’s important to choose data and visualization tools that can generate graphs and charts that provide a visual and comprehensible topographic map of vulnerabilities in the context of your company's IT architecture. 

Vulnerability management tools need to treat data as a critical resource, not a formality. This is important because even high volumes of vulnerability-related data are meaningless if they lack context and cohesion. Remember that your vulnerability management solution shouldn’t change the fabric of your IT infrastructure. It needs to harmonize with what already exists. 

8. Map all assets and assess exposure

This may seem like a fairly common recommendation, but it can't be overstated. In the cloud, you have to understand and protect everything you steward. 

The most effective vulnerability management solutions feature in-depth assessments across cross-cloud architectures including AWS, GCP, Azure, OCI, Alibaba Cloud, and VMware vSphere from a centralized panel. No cloud technology, from VMs to appliances, should be neglected in these scans. Asset mapping must include relationship mapping to understand the implications and attack paths of potential security incidents. 

It’s critical to evaluate the exposure and privilege entitlements of all cloud-native IT assets to reduce the risk of data breaches and other cybersecurity disasters. The Novant Health data breach is an example of the consequences of suboptimal exposure assessment. The breach compromised the data of over 1.3 million patients because of a security misconfiguration in Meta Pixel, a JavaScript tracking script that evaluates advertising performance.

9. Fuel vulnerability management lifecycles with threat data

Data is king, as we’re so often reminded. In vulnerability management, the best decisions are data-driven decisions. 

Enterprises should funnel threat intelligence and vulnerability data so that vulnerabilities are prioritized in a highly specific and data-driven business context. Businesses that leverage their threat data to its maximum potential will have an advantage over those that don’t. Plain and simple. 

Here’s another important factor to keep in mind: vulnerability management is just one component of an enterprise cybersecurity stack. Threat data from different cybersecurity programs shouldn’t be siloed. Organizations should champion cross-department report and threat data sharing to ensure that the connection between vulnerabilities and other cyber risks are identified and addressed. 

10. Champion cross-team collaboration for vulnerability remediation

There are a million old adages about the importance of teamwork, and they all apply to vulnerability management. Organizations must nurture an environment where security is everybody's responsibility. Vulnerability management can’t be solely in the domain of IT and cybersecurity teams. 

The success of a vulnerability management program hinges on strong relationships among dev, engineering, and security teams to enable mutual understanding of security concerns, optimize resource allocation, form security priority lists, and streamline operational efficiency in every stage of a cloud-native application lifecycle.

11. Integrate with other enterprise security solutions

We mentioned earlier that vulnerability management is just one component of a security stack. Therefore, it’s critical to identify and integrate with all parallel cybersecurity programs and solutions that your enterprise is stewarding, including Security Configuration Management (SCM), Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), and log management.

Your vulnerability management vendor should be able to integrate vulnerability management solutions with other security programs. This can help create a more robust cybersecurity posture, nurture a collaborative environment that champions the sharing of security intelligence and reports, and create streamlined cross-program remediation routes.

Go beyond the basics with Wiz

Wiz's vulnerability management solution provides a comprehensive set of capabilities that go beyond basic vulnerability management best practices. Wiz can help organizations to identify, prioritize, and remediate vulnerabilities across their cloud environments quickly and effectively with the following capabilities:

  • Agentless scanning: Wiz uses an agentless scanning approach, which means that it does not require any software to be installed on the workloads being scanned. This makes it easier to deploy and manage Wiz, and it also reduces the overhead of scanning workloads.

  • Continuous scanning: Wiz continuously scans workloads for vulnerabilities, which helps to ensure that new vulnerabilities are identified and prioritized quickly.

  • Deep contextual assessments: Wiz goes beyond simply identifying vulnerabilities. It also provides deep contextual assessments of vulnerabilities, including information about the severity of the vulnerability, the exploitability of the vulnerability, and the impact of the vulnerability on the organization's environment.

  • Risk-based prioritization: Wiz uses a risk-based approach to prioritize vulnerabilities. This means that it takes into account factors such as the severity of the vulnerability, the exploitability of the vulnerability, and the impact of the vulnerability on the organization's environment when prioritizing vulnerabilities. This helps organizations to focus on the most critical vulnerabilities first.

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