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Detailed Guide on Vulnerability Management

Almost every year, thousands of new security vulnerabilities are discovered. Some of them are proactively addressed and others go unnoticed to cause havoc. As reported by Risk Based Security, around 4.1 billion records consisting of customer details were exposed in the first six months of 2019 alone!

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To prepare in advance for such emerging security threats, organizations must lean towards vulnerability management so that they can build the highest-level security posture possible. This guide on vulnerability management starts with the basics and introduces you to the step by step approach, roles and responsibilities and the best practices that must be followed to utilize the fullest potential of vulnerability management inside your organization.

What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management, in the simplest of terms, can be defined as the process of highlighting vulnerabilities in IT infrastructures, assessing the associated risks, and taking proper steps to mitigate those vulnerabilities.

We can think of it as a proactive approach that helps manage security vulnerabilities by detecting them early and thus reduces the likelihood that any loophole in code or design would damage the security posture of your resources. These resources may include operating systems, browsers, enterprise applications, and end-user applications.


Let’s look at the various steps involved in the vulnerability management process:

1. Identifying the Assets

The very first step in the vulnerability management process is to identify the critical assets which require specific attention. For example, a database that stores information about customers needs to be prioritized first.

2. Scanning for Vulnerabilities:

After the identification of the critical assets, we then scan for vulnerabilities. For this, one can rely on penetration testing, or conduct a regular network scan or use an automated testing tool.

3. Classifying the Vulnerabilities Based on Severity:

In the next step, the detected vulnerabilities are classified according to their severity levels. They are also categorized based on the level of risk they pose, their impact on networks, applications, and servers of the overall system.

4. Remediation:

In this step, the vulnerabilities are based on risk prioritization via reconfiguration or patching. Remediation ensures that the security controls are put in place and that the overall process is properly documented for future reference.

5. Mitigation

Mitigation is the last and the most crucial step in the process as it focuses on accepting, transferring, and mitigating the identified vulnerabilities. After remediation, it becomes necessary to check whether the applied patches are working successfully or not and whether the solution is going to work sustainably. All these steps are taken care of in the mitigation stage.

Step by Step Approach Towards Vulnerability Management

Here is the step by step approach you must follow while implementing a vulnerability management strategy inside your organization:

Preparations

The first phase in the vulnerability management process is the preparation phase. In order to avoid getting overwhelmed by the innumerable vulnerabilities identified in the initial scans, starting with a small scope is inherently recommended. This can be made possible by utilizing a small number of systems or minimizing the number of vulnerabilities that are identified with the help of vulnerability scanners.

Along with the in-scope systems, an organization must also identify the various types of scans they are going to perform. The possibilities of different types of scans include an internal scan performed from the attacker’s perspective within the internal network or an external scan performed on the internet from the perspective of an external attacker.

Both types of scans can be put under the framework of either authenticated or unauthenticated scanning. Since each of these types of scans has its own advantages, usually a combination of both is used by vulnerability management processes.

Vulnerability Scans:

After the completion of the preparation phase, the next phase of the process begins and the primary vulnerability scans get performed. Any roadblock which occurs during the scanning process needs to be recorded since similar instances may occur in the near future also. The errors may include systems becoming unavailable or application responses getting rampant. Under such scenarios, the focus must be shifted to reduce the impact of scans on the performance or the stability of the systems on target.

A vulnerability scan can achieve its purpose only when its results are reported and understood clearly. Organizations must utilize the extensive range of reporting options provided by a number of vulnerability scanning tools for visualizing scan results.

Evaluating Vulnerabilities:

After the identification of vulnerabilities, their evaluation is needed so as to reduce the risks. It is also made sure that the level of risk posed by the vulnerabilities stays within the cognizance of the risk management strategy of the organization.

Vulnerability management solutions play a vital role in providing a number of risk-ratings and scores for tracking vulnerabilities which include Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) scores. These scores are extremely important as they suggest to organizations which type of vulnerabilities are most important in terms of focus.

Similar to other security tools, vulnerability scores can’t be considered perfect. Although their vulnerability detection false-positive rates are low, they still remain greater than zero. Performing vulnerability validation testing with the help of penetration testing tools and techniques can go a long way in weeding out false-positives and focus better on dealing with authentic signs of vulnerability.

Remediation:

The next phase of the vulnerability management process involves the definition of remediating measures where the asset owners, security officers and the IT departments play a vital role. The security officer helps in analyzing the existing vulnerabilities and providing inputs on risk remediation. The IT department then decides the framework for analyzing the vulnerabilities considering the technical perspectives and answers questions related to the availability of patches and configuration hardening.

The recommendations of the IT department also define the feasibility of viable remediating actions. The security officer must set distinct and clear deadlines while implementing the remediating actions in order to ensure that sufficient priority is given to the entire remediation process. Asset owners should also consider including a timeline within their action plan in order to ensure that the remediating actions are implemented timely.

Rescan:

After the remediation of the identified vulnerabilities, the rescan process needs to be scheduled to verify the implementation of the remediating actions. This scan has to be performed with the help of the same vulnerability scanning tools and identical configuration settings similar to the initial scan. This is one of the most important steps to ensure that inaccurate results do not occur because of configuration errors.

Usually, the rescans are scheduled in a way such that the remediating actions can be completed within the deadline. Mitigating vulnerabilities identified from the initial scan helps identify the potential of the vulnerability management team. Furthermore, the lessons learned during the execution of the entire process improve the overall vulnerability management processes and can be used for reevaluation as well.

step by step approach towards vulnerability management

Roles and Responsibilities in Vulnerability Management

The following roles must be identified within an organization while establishing a vulnerability management process.

a) Security Officer:

The owner of the whole vulnerability management process is the security officer. The security officer is responsible for designing the whole process and making sure that it’s getting implemented correctly.

b) Vulnerability Engineer:

After the recruitment of a security officer, it becomes important to identify the role of a vulnerability engineer who is responsible for scheduling vulnerability scans and maintaining the vulnerability scanners.

c) Asset Owner:

The asset owner is mainly responsible for the system assets which are scanned during the overall vulnerability management process. They also decide whether the identified vulnerabilities are mitigated, or further extra improvements are required.

d) IT System Engineer:

One of the most important pillars in the vulnerability management process, the IT system engineers are responsible for the implementation of the remediating measures identified after the detection of security vulnerabilities.

Roles and responsibilities in vulnerability management

Vulnerability Management Best Practices

We now know that by implementing a smart vulnerability management system, you could prevent and control cybersecurity risks in your organization. But what best practices would ensure that you are utilizing vulnerability management to its fullest? Let’s take a look at some of them:

Lay Out an Efficient Vulnerability Management Strategy

There are countless reasons why businesses implement a vulnerability management strategy. One of the primary reasons to mitigate vulnerabilities and comply with established security frameworks and standards like the PCI DSS or the ISO 27001.

Moreover, having a vulnerability management strategy in place allows you to increase visibility across your IT infrastructure. This would make sure that your business responds efficiently to security risks and that too in a timely manner.

A poorly devised vulnerability management strategy, on the other hand, is comparatively less likely to achieve the desired results. An organization that clearly wants to achieve a fruitful vulnerability management strategy will surely deploy a comprehensive and elaborate set of security measures consisting of a combination of processes, people, and technology.

Implement Effective Vulnerability Management Tools

There are numerous scanning tools available in the marketplace which typically include scanning engines and consoles. The tools compare the identified information against a previously known set of security vulnerabilities residing on their database or third-party databases like OVAL, SANS Institute or CVE.

While most of these vulnerability management tools seem to work just fine, they are not all equal in terms of quality. Many of the open-source and low-end tools simply scan networks and systems and report issues and suffer from high false-negatives and false-positives. On the other hand, the high-end and feature-rich tools include components like patch management and penetration testing to produce more accurate results.

Therefore, it becomes important to evaluate a vulnerability scanning tool based on its scalability, reliability, accuracy and quality of reporting and remediation. The main goal is to select an option that stands balanced on the aspects of cost, time, and quality.

Scan Regularly to Avoid Network Attacks

Appknox dashboard

Vulnerabilities can sneak into your system at any time, thereby making regular network scans a major requirement for ensuring that the existing vulnerabilities are discovered and fixed in a proper time frame. There are two ways which can ensure security in your network:

The first way to maintain security in your network is to assign all the available resources to detect security threats. You can also make sure that all the updates and patches are implemented at once and in the correct manner.

The second way consists of utilizing the available security scanning tools to test the security of existing networks, equipment, applications, and websites to identify existing vulnerabilities and fix them. Although the presence of Intrusion Detection Systems/ Intrusion Prevention Systems (IDS/IPS), firewalls, as well as antiviruses is important, it is equally important to fix the identified threats instead of quarantining or hiding them.

In a nutshell, we can say that instead of just building higher security walls, proactively fixing the existing security weaknesses should be made a major concern. This will also go a long way in creating new and better security models that understand vulnerabilities in a comprehensive manner.

Identify and Remediate Vulnerabilities on a Regular Basis

It is extremely important for organizations to perform a timely identification as well as remediation of the existing security vulnerabilities. However, the process of remediation can sometimes be overwhelming. The process might involve thousand-page long scan reports, and this can prove out to be time consuming and severely confusing.

While most of these vulnerability management tools seem to work just fine, they are not all equal in terms of quality. Many of the open-source and low-end tools simply scan networks and systems and report issues and suffer from high false-negatives and false-positives. On the other hand, the high-end and feature-rich tools include components like patch management and penetration testing to produce more accurate results.

In order to simplify this issue, here are three steps you should put your focus on:

Categorize the Vulnerabilities:

The first step involved in the process of remediation is the classification of vulnerabilities according to existing risks, severity, and impact. Categorization of these vulnerabilities plays a major role in helping businesses understand and assess the underlying issues. For example, these categories can either be low-risk assets, false positives, missing patches, configuration issues, or outdated software. Hence, appropriate action can be taken based on the severity of these identified categories.

Prioritize the Important Ones:

All the discovered vulnerabilities are not equal. Whenever a vulnerability scan is performed, it gathers information on a massive scale and ends up gathering information with a comprehensive report on all kinds of issues. But it is also important for businesses to prioritize the major vulnerabilities and make responses accordingly rather than giving immediate attention to all the existing threats.

Bite-size the Remediation Process:

After categorizing and prioritizing the existing vulnerabilities, it becomes important to break down the entire remediation process into bite-size chunks in order to make them manageable and more effective. Companies should also consider keeping a check on the tasks which are actionable and achievable, since making notes of slow processes and quick wins might take more time than usual.

Top 5 Most Powerful Vulnerability Management Tools

The discussion about vulnerability management won’t be complete without highlighting the industry-leading tools that assist businesses in managing security across their IT infrastructure and mitigating the identified security threats. Here are the top 5 tools when it comes to vulnerability management:

Appknox

appknox

Appknox is widely considered among the most innovative and reliable solutions when it comes to vulnerability management. Appknox relies on automated SAST, DAST, APIT and penetration testing to reveal the security vulnerabilities present in your systems and uses highly efficient remediation and mitigation techniques to patch and eradicate the identified vulnerabilities. Appknox’s highly customizable reporting solution aids the end-consumers to take quick and actionable decisions regarding the identified threats and make sure that the system gets prepared to ward off such threats with ease in the future.

Nessus (Tenable)

nessus

Nessus is designed specially in order to act as a one-stop solution when it comes to vulnerability management. It focuses on making the process easy, simple and intuitive. The Nessus vulnerability management solution consists of numerous pre-configured templates which help you assess where your vulnerabilities lie and what’s the best way to mitigate them. The option of customizable reporting also helps in prioritizing, assessing and remediating issues quickly.

Wireshark

wireshark

Wireshark is a well-known open-source vulnerability management tool primarily employed as a network protocol analyzer. Wireshark’s vulnerability scanner uses packet sniffing to analyze network traffic and helps security officers design effective patches in case of vulnerabilities. Once it detects a vulnerability, it further categorizes it based on the level of risk and even deployed countermeasures to protect the network. However, like most of the open-source tools, it’s not easy to use and configure.

Rapid 7

rapid 7

The Rapid 7 vulnerability management solution is widely used by organizations to assess security risk across their infrastructures. With in-built features like real-time risk prioritization, cloud and virtual infrastructure assessment, live dashboarding and automation-assisted patching, the tool offers an advanced approach to vulnerability management.

Burp Suite

burpsuite

Burp Suite is a highly recommended vulnerability management suite widely used by security professionals to assess web-based applications. It efficiently intercepts web traffic between server and client by acting as a reliable proxy tool and assesses the requests and responses to conduct security checks. Focusing on minimizing false-positives, the vulnerability scanner is capable of exposing a wide range of vulnerabilities while cutting down the number of requests made during the tests.

Vulnerability Management is an Ongoing Process

Implementing a vulnerability management process in place is all about managing and mitigating risk. But this shouldn’t be confused with the misconception that it’s only a one time process of reconfiguring and patching the vulnerabilities. Rather, it is a continuous and disciplined approach that requires a constant organizational focus so that continuous identification and remediation would become a part of the organization’s overall security strategy.

Without a continuous vulnerability management process, the owners and stakeholders of a business are blind to the risks associated with the security infrastructure. Having a well-planned and properly designed process in place lets an organization obtain an uninterrupted view of the underlying threats. The management thus becomes well-equipped with the required strategy and gets hold of the remediating actions that would help deal with the identified threats effectively.

Industry leaders in vulnerability management like Appknox rely on a proactive approach towards threat intelligence and act as a unique source of truth when it comes to handling security vulnerabilities. Appknox not only provides visibility into the existing vulnerabilities but also clarifies how those vulnerabilities could turn into business risks and which ones should be targeted first.


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Taryar
Taryar W

Senior Security Researcher

Singapore airlines

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