Vulnerability management involves continuously identifying, managing, and remediating vulnerabilities in IT environments, and is an integral part of any security program.
Wiz Experts Team
6 min read
What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management involves continuously identifying, managing, and remediating vulnerabilities in IT environments, and is an integral part of any security program. The adoption of agile methodologies and the growing number of cloud services, endpoints, digital identities, workloads, and evolving threat actors mean IT environments are becoming increasingly complex. Vulnerability management has thus become essential for enterprises and large organizations in particular.
Security vulnerabilities are misconfigurations or bugs in software that can result in a breach, compromise, or takeover by malicious actors. For example, when organizations fail to update and patch software when a new version is released, the bugs within the software can have security implications. If a threat actor manages to exploit it and execute their code, there is a potential for zero-day RCE (remote code execution).
Companies across the globe are incurring massive losses as a result of data breaches, compliance failures, and other fallouts due to poor or nonexistent vulnerability management. The Independent reported upwards of 364.1 million data breaches in 2023; and in August 2023 alone, over 40 million global records (including personally identifiable information (PII), health data, financial documents, and social security numbers) were compromised.
Why is vulnerability management necessary in your security stack?
The fabric of enterprise security has changed. It can no longer be the sole responsibility of security and IT teams, and needs to be democratized. Key personnel in every stage of business operations should have the capability to continuously identify and remediate known and unknown vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability management can streamline operations, enforce strong policies and controls, strengthen an organization’s overall security posture, enhance visibility, empower teams and employees, and improve compliance. It does so by empowering developers and ensuring consistent operational velocity.
Security is a shared responsibility
Everyone in an organization is responsible for security, not just security teams. As such, developers and security teams must work together to mitigate risk. It's crucial to encourage organizational ownership over security to ensure rapid remediation.
Vulnerability management helps developers address vulnerabilities in the early stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Integrating vulnerability management with CI/CD pipelines can save significant time and resources.
Through close collaboration and enhanced communication, we can better understand how every step of the development cycle impacts different teams within the pipeline. Security teams can also manage future vulnerabilities more efficiently and effectively by making vulnerability management an organizational undertaking. An effective vulnerability management solution helps remediate vulnerabilities at the speed and scale of the cloud. This is why vulnerability management should be a part of every modern security stack.
The five common steps of the vulnerability management process are:
We go into further detail on each below.
Enterprises should create a comprehensive topology of their IT assets, including VMs, containers, container registries, serverless functions, virtual appliances, ephemeral resources, and managed compute resources. Every component of an IT environment that is susceptible to vulnerabilities should be identified and accounted for.
The failure to discover even a single misconfigured IT asset can have severe consequences. A misconfigured endpoint resulted in a significant data leak for Microsoft in 2022. While Microsoft contests the severity of the data leak, the highest estimates suggested that the data of more than 65,000 entities across 111 countries had been compromised. The misconfigured endpoint has since been protected via strong authentication protocols.
Businesses should schedule recurrent and autonomous scanning of IT assets to ensure that known and unknown vulnerabilities are discovered and addressed regularly. Some vulnerabilities may evade scanning, and these need to be discovered with contextualized and targeted penetration tests.
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.
The hard truth is that vulnerabilities are always going to outnumber an organization’s security resources. Legacy vulnerability management solutions often flood enterprises with high volumes of contextless vulnerability alerts that take their focus away from actual threats. Therefore, businesses need context to identify those vulnerabilities that pose the greatest risk so they can be remediated first.
Leveraging vulnerability data and threat intelligence allows organizations to categorize vulnerabilities based on specific business contexts. Remediation efforts need to be prioritized based on which IT assets are critically exposed and which vulnerabilities may have the most damaging blast radius.
Enterprises should begin addressing their list of discovered and prioritized vulnerabilities, starting with the most critical cases. Remediation comes in many forms, including patching out-of-date software, decommissioning dormant IT assets, deprovisioning or rightsizing identity entitlements, decoding and solving misconfigurations, and identifying and accepting low-risk vulnerabilities.
Remediation may seem like the final stage of the vulnerability management process. However, vulnerability management would be incomplete without double-checking if the remediation efforts were successful and ensuring that the knowledge is used to strengthen security processes in the future.
It’s essential to validate vulnerability remediation efforts. Businesses need to be sure that critical vulnerabilities have successfully been mitigated. They also need to cross-check whether any unknown or consequent vulnerabilities were introduced during the remediation of known vulnerabilities.
Businesses can validate remediation efforts by meticulously redoing the entire process and by scanning and testing IT assets using various methods. Validation should be considered a critical step in the vulnerability management process rather than a formality after remediation.
The insights generated from the vulnerability management process can significantly benefit companies in the long term. Businesses should use their vulnerability management platforms to generate visualized, contextualized, and consolidated vulnerability management reports, the details of which can reveal security strengths, weaknesses, threats, and trends.
These reports can help organizations evaluate the quality of their vulnerability management efforts and proactively optimize them. Reports can also support other security teams by providing them with vulnerability-centric data that could augment parallel security efforts.
5 key features to look for in a vulnerability management solution
1. Risk-based prioritization
The best vulnerability management solutions provide concise and contextualized lists of vulnerabilities for companies to remediate. These vulnerabilities should be prioritized based on a series of organization-specific risk factors. Addressing even one of these critical vulnerabilities can potentially be more impactful than addressing hundreds of inconsequential and low-risk vulnerabilities.
2. Continuous, agentless scanning
Agent-based scanning can be useful, but it is time consuming and resource intensive. Businesses should seek out vulnerability management solutions that feature continuous, agentless vulnerability scanning via cloud-native APIs. Agentless security approaches provide easy deployment options and continuous visibility and monitoring. They are also cost effective and save time and resources.
3. Deep contextual assessments across all technologies
Businesses are scaling their IT environments at unprecedented speeds. Therefore, they must choose vulnerability management solutions that can perform deep contextual assessments of a range of cross-cloud technologies and applications like VMs, containers, registries, serverless, and appliances to identify vulnerabilities.
4. Integrations with SIEM, SOAR, and SCM
World-class vulnerability management solutions should be compatible and easy to integrate with existing security solutions from different providers, including:
Security information and event management (SIEM)
Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR)
Security configuration management (SCM)
This can help create streamlined routes to share vulnerabilities and insights between security programs.
Every security solution must address and improve compliance. Businesses should choose vulnerability management platforms that can be easily configured to industry standards. Other compliance-related features to look for include the ability to customize security and compliance policies and controls, and to conduct compliance assessments as part of vulnerability management.
Fix Vulnerabilities at the Scale and Speed of the Cloud
The Wiz cloud-native vulnerability management solution helps organizations quickly detect vulnerabilities without configuring external scans or deploying agents across clouds and workloads. Schedule a free demo to engage with experts and understand how Wiz would benefit your use case.
As we scale and gain more customers, we are confident that we can tell them we are aware of all known vulnerabilities, and that new vulnerabilities will be quickly visible to us too.
Kashfun Nazir, Information Security Lead & Data Protection Officer, Atlan
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