Vulnerability Management

What is Vulnerability Management?

Digital adversaries can exploit both unknown and known security vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure to gain unauthorized access to private networks, evade detection from enterprise security tools, and either exfiltrate data or deploy malicious applications (e.g. ransomware, spyware, C2 scripts, etc.) inside the network.

Vulnerability management is a cybersecurity management process that focuses on identifying, documenting, prioritizing, resolving, and managing security vulnerabilities throughout an organization’s IT infrastructure.

An effective vulnerability management strategy leverages up-to-date vulnerability intelligence in combination with data-driven risk assessment to prioritize and resolve vulnerabilities, maintaining an acceptable level of risk while controlling costs and ensuring the efficient allocation of valuable IT resources.

What is a Security Vulnerability?

A security vulnerability is a built-in programming flaw in a piece of software that can be exploited by a digital adversary to trigger unintended outcomes that breach the security of the targeted network or system. A successful exploit of a security vulnerability can result in the attacker gaining unauthorized access to the target’s data, networks, and systems – sometimes with administrative privileges.

Common types of security vulnerabilities include:

Broken Access Controls

Access control systems regulate access to secured resources. When access control systems are misconfigured or programmed incorrectly, digital adversaries can bypass user authorization and gain unauthorized access to the system.

Broken Authentication

Multi-factor authentication systems are designed to prevent digital adversaries from gaining unauthorized access to a secured system, even when they possess valid credentials. Attackers can exploit broken authentication systems by launching brute force attacks that aim to takeover administrative accounts, gain access to secured systems, and deploy ransomware or steal data.

Cryptographic Failures

Failure to encrypt data, or encrypting data using an out-dated algorithm, can leave enterprise organizations vulnerable to greater financial and legal consequences in the event of a data breach.

Exposed Data

In the past, we’ve seen cases where a web application inadvertently exposed sensitive data that could be accessed and exfiltrated by digital adversaries.

Injection Flaws

An injection flaw is a security vulnerability in a form input or some other data submission feature on a website or web application. Injection flaw exploits allow digital adversaries to enter database code into a web-based form and execute that code on the target’s internal database (sometimes known as an SQL injection attack) without the proper authorization or administrative privileges.

Vulnerable Libraries/Components

Modern web applications often include or reference external components, libraries, or frameworks with their own security vulnerabilities that may be exploited by digital adversaries. 

The developers of these external components may release patches to fix known vulnerabilities, but IT security teams still need to monitor emerging vulnerabilities and install the latest patches to safeguard their applications.

Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

A zero-day vulnerability is a software security vulnerability that is discovered by attackers before it can be discovered and patched by the software vendor or developer. A digital adversary who discovers a zero-day vulnerability can capitalize by launching cyberattacks against vulnerable enterprise targets until a patch is discovered, or by selling information about the zero-day vulnerability on the dark web.

How Does Vulnerability Management Work?

Asset Discovery and Categorization

The first step in the vulnerability management process is asset discovery and categorization. Enterprise security teams should create a comprehensive list of hardware, software, data, and other assets that should be assessed for vulnerabilities. 

Once a thorough inventory has been conducted, security teams should categorize assets based on their criticality to daily operations and the importance of safeguarding them.

Vulnerability Assessment

After discovering and categorizing assets, the next step is to complete a vulnerability assessment. This step may be completed with the help of a software-based vulnerability scanner.

Vulnerability scanners are automated tools that can inventory IT assets (e.g. endpoint devices, VMs, containers, applications, web services, etc.) and check those assets against up-to-date threat intelligence to reveal security vulnerabilities, provide information about vulnerability risks, and deliver recommendations for resolving known vulnerabilities.

Documenting and Prioritizing Vulnerabilities

Once your vulnerability assessment is complete, the next step is to document the vulnerabilities you discovered and prioritize vulnerabilities for resolution.

As a starting point, you should focus on fixing software vulnerabilities that impact your most critical systems and IT infrastructure. You may also want to use a standardized scoring system like the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to quantify the severity and characteristics of software vulnerabilities and prioritize the ones with the greatest potential impact.

Resolving Vulnerabilities

Security teams have three options when it comes to addressing vulnerabilities found in an assessment: 

  • Remediation – when a security patch is available, security teams can install that patch to remediate the vulnerability and prevent a data breach.
  • Mitigation – when a security patch is not available, security teams can implement other measures that make the vulnerability harder to exploit or reduce the potential impact of successful exploitation by a digital adversary.
  • Acceptance – when a vulnerability is unlikely to be exploited or cause significant negative consequences, security teams may choose to accept the risk and leave the vulnerability unaddressed.

Vulnerabilities Reassessment

After resolving any vulnerabilities identified in the vulnerability assessment, security teams should conduct a new vulnerability assessment to verify that patches were correctly installed and any other mitigation steps were properly implemented.

Continuous Improvement

Vulnerability management is a continuous process. Security teams should conduct regular assessments to uncover new vulnerabilities, install the latest patches, and maintain the organization’s security posture against digital adversaries seeking to exploit known vulnerabilities.

Why is Vulnerability Management Important?

Enhance Visibility of IT Assets and Risk

Vulnerability management enhances visibility of IT assets in the organization’s digital infrastructure. Assessing criticality of IT assets to daily operations helps security teams understand risk and efficiently allocate resources to control it.

Mitigate Cyber Threats

An effective vulnerability management process proactively prevents digital adversaries from exploiting known software vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to secured enterprise networks, systems, and data.

Maintain Regulatory Compliance

Some organizations are subject to regulations that require them to assess risks and vulnerabilities to sensitive data and implement security measures to reduce them. Implementing a formalized vulnerability management program can help organizations comply with these regulations while safeguarding sensitive data against unauthorized access or data theft.

Secure Your IT Infrastructure with Vulnerability Intelligence from ZeroFox

An effective vulnerability management program depends on high-quality vulnerability intelligence about the newest software bugs that digital adversaries are exploiting to penetrate enterprise targets.

ZeroFox provides threat intelligence services in the form of analysis, reports, and assessment on cyber threats, including reports on new vulnerabilities, where they originate, who is being targeted, and how security teams can take action to effectively address the threat.

Ready to learn more?

Check out our 2024 Cybersecurity Trends and Predictions report to discover how digital adversaries are using AI to speed up the identification and exploitation of vulnerabilities – and how you can stay one step ahead.