The vulnerability management lifecycle has become an essential component of an effective cybersecurity strategy within any organization. This lifecycle is a comprehensive and iterative process that involves identifying, evaluating, treating, and reporting on vulnerabilities in systems and software.
Hackers and malicious actors are constantly looking for vulnerabilities and try to develop exploits that allow them to use these vulnerabilities to compromise a company. Vulnerabilities can be found in software, systems, processes, code, apps, and hardware, and manufacturers are constantly releasing fixes and patches to these vulnerabilities in the form of updates.
This article will dive into the six core steps of the vulnerability management lifecycle, detailing best practices, and showing you how to effectively implement a vulnerability management system to streamline your cybersecurity efforts, boost proactive efficiency, and even ensure regulatory compliance.
Meet the 6-Step Vulnerability Management Lifecycle
The vulnerability management lifecycle is a proactive approach to strengthening an organization's cybersecurity. It’s made up of six primary steps and consists of a continuous improvement process that aims to keep your digital assets secure by minimizing the risk a vulnerability might pose — whether it’s an accidental data leak or a known exploit. Incorporating the vulnerability management process steps outlined here can help you mitigate risks and maintain cyber resiliency.
In the Discovery phase, businesses must prepare an extensive asset inventory and identify any business-critical assets. It’s also important to point out that a critical priority here is to uncover any unauthorized or hidden assets (often known as “shadow IT”) that could potentially become an entry point for threats. This phase also requires you establish clear objectives and goals for your vulnerability management program, giving you a solid foundation for subsequent steps.
The prioritization step is all about organizing and categorizing. Once you have an inventory of your assets in place, you must now rank them based on the potential impact in case of a vulnerability's exploit. You’ll have to go through various compromise and incident scenarios to see what that risk and impact looks like.
Vulnerability prioritization could be influenced by various factors, such as the asset's role in business operations, its exposure (to public-facing channels or third-parties), or the sensitivity of the data it holds. This step can help you get an understanding of where your critical risk lies which will lead to better prioritization and a plan of action through the rest of the life cycle.
This phase puts the above one into action. During the assessment phase of the vulnerability lifecycle management, organizations perform vulnerability scans and penetration tests on their assets. These scans and tests are designed to discover and reveal actual vulnerabilities to provide an accurate picture of an organization's security posture. This phase is crucial for putting together a plan of action that remediates specific vulnerabilities and risks.
The reporting stage is where organizations prepare a detailed summary of the discovered vulnerabilities. This report includes crucial aspects like risk analysis, prioritization, and root cause analysis. This stage of threat and vulnerability management helps provide a comprehensive picture of the vulnerabilities identified and how they can potentially impact the business.
Risk analysis provides insight on how the discovered vulnerabilities may lead to issues, whether they’re disruptions, vulnerabilities that may be exploited, or misconfigurations that can lead to other problems. Prioritization will help define which vulnerabilities need attention now, based on criticality to the business and the measured risk. Lastly, root cause analysis will provide information on what caused the vulnerability — whether it’s an outdated version of an app, a misconfigured database, or if a key security process (like multi-factor authentication) is missing.
In the remediation phase, organizations now address the identified vulnerabilities. The prior steps should have given the security leader the information needed to know which vulnerabilities and risks are most significant and take precedence. By being thorough in the previous steps, the organization can comprehensively handle immediate risks while planning out a long-term strategy for non-critical risks and minimizing vulnerabilities in the future.
Remediation is often done with a combination of tools, systems, processes, and policies. For example, it can include stronger account security like MFA, automating updates for most systems and software, and implementing tools that can provide vulnerability scanning and management for critical business environments.
The verification phase aims to ensure that the prior actions have been successful in minimizing or eliminating vulnerabilities that expose a company to risk. This is done via system reassessing as well as additional testing, bringing the vulnerability management lifecycle full circle.
Benefits of Mastering the Vulnerability Management Process
Implementing a vulnerability management process can significantly boost your organization's cybersecurity, mitigate the risk of attacks from malicious actors, minimize exposure and compromise stemming from accidents and negligence, and overall operational efficiency within your team. A well-structured vulnerability lifecycle management process can be incredibly valuable even in the face of new and evolving threats.
Vulnerability management leads to a more secure and streamlined organization
One of the primary benefits of a robust vulnerability management program is the protection it affords your business. It's not just about keeping your code, products, and systems secure, but it also ensures long-term cybersecurity by maintaining high standards of comprehensive security. When done well, vulnerability management can be an effective and proactive approach that identifies, evaluates, and eliminates potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.
A well-defined vulnerability management process also streamlines your operations and boosts efficiency. By following the lifecycle steps clearly and methodically, you can manage vulnerabilities systematically, minimizing the risk of oversight or errors (or catching them as you begin the cycle again). Vulnerability management tools integrated into your process further enhance this efficiency by automating repetitive tasks and facilitating comprehensive vulnerability scanning and reporting.
Vulnerability management has long-term benefits for asset visibility, response, compliance, and remediation
Increased visibility and reporting through detailed analysis is another significant advantage. By being thorough with your asset discovery and inventory, you can be sure you’re not missing potential vulnerabilities finding its way to your organization via apps and systems you didn’t know were part of your environment. Prioritizing clear reporting and metrics, can also give you an in-depth understanding of your organization's vulnerability landscape, resulting in more informed decisions, and better allocated resources.
With a robust vulnerability management process, you’re also facilitating a faster response to immediate threats, making any compromises or incidents cause less damage and disruption to you. This is done by promptly identifying and addressing critical vulnerabilities in a comprehensive way.
Vulnerability management can also improve your compliance and adherence to regulatory standards. In industries such as healthcare or finance, this is especially important as exploited vulnerabilities in any system within this industry can lead to hefty fines and investigations depending on the severity of the security incident.
Overall, a comprehensive vulnerability management program provides the tools you need to elevate your security program and reap major benefits for your department and organization. By continually scanning, assessing, and remediating vulnerabilities, you're not just reacting to threats, but proactively fortifying your defenses.
Pro-Level Vulnerability Management Best Practices & Tips
Implementing an effective vulnerability management process can be challenging but by following these vulnerability management best practices and tips, you can simplify and streamline the process. This will make your ongoing vulnerability management easier and more effective.
Document effectively: A fundamental step here is to stay current on all documentation. Regularly updating and reviewing your documents ensures that you have a comprehensive, up-to-date inventory of all your assets. This, alongside following existing vulnerability management (or patch management) frameworks such as NIST will help provide a clear roadmap for managing and mitigating vulnerabilities.
Organization is key: It's essential to assign a clear owner to each asset or asset types. Knowing who's responsible for what helps streamline the management process and ensures quicker response times during incidents.
You should also schedule regular or continuous scanning and monitoring for your devices and systems, as allowable by your organization and technology. Continuous scanning allows for real-time identification of vulnerabilities and helps keep your organization's security up to date. It's worth investing in advanced vulnerability management tools that can perform automated, scheduled scans, offering detailed reports to aid decision-making. While some scanning efforts may slow things down, automated monitoring and scanning tools are designed to perform effectively with minimal to no disruption to your team.
Always look for improvement: Continuously reviewing your vulnerability program metrics is vital to ensure that KPIs are well-defined, measured, and applicable to your current organization’s make up. Regular metric reviews provide insights into the effectiveness of your vulnerability management program and highlight areas needing improvement.
It also gives you an opportunity to update your KPIs and program to account for any major shifts within your organization, whether it’s a change in infrastructure, a major service provider, or even having a new office open up.
Security is everyone’s responsibility: Successful vulnerability management strategy includes fostering a security-first culture. This doesn't just mean providing ongoing training and awareness but also means taking the time to talk to department heads and other stakeholders about why vulnerability management is important and the benefits of having all departments within a company buy into the efforts required to make this program a success. This will make policy enforcement and adherence better while improving response and remediation efforts in the face of any incident.
As you look for tools and tech to help your vulnerability management efforts, automation needs to be a priority. These types of tools can help with regular scanning, reporting, patching, and even some aspects of remediation. It's a more efficient way of managing vulnerabilities without overburdening your IT or security team.
These vulnerability management best practices can help ensure that your vulnerability management process works well at the onset but is also prepared to scale and adapt through your organization as it shifts and grows.
Simplify the Vulnerability Management Lifecycle with Legit Security
Automated vulnerability scanning and asset discovery tools can provide a major benefit to any company who wants to develop and implement a vulnerability management program. The Legit Security platform provides an automated vulnerability management solution from code to cloud, an area that remains a blind spot for many companies. To learn more about Legit Security, schedule a product demo or check out the Legit Security Platform.