Vulnerability management never stops and never slows down. If you miss a notice, you are leaving a door to your company’s systems unlocked. Like an incident response, vulnerability management requires that you act fast! Every day that goes by without action increases the chances of an incident. At the same time, it can be tough to carry out a thorough risk assessment and decide how to act on this information.
The Risks of Ad Hoc Vulnerability Management
If your company has never experienced a breach due to a vulnerability, you may not have taken a close look at the process. Here are just a few of the risks associated with an inconsistent approach to managing your IT security vulnerabilities.
● Higher Chance Of Becoming A Security Outlier
Hackers regularly test the defenses of companies to see if there are weaknesses they can exploit. When a new vulnerability is announced, the clock starts to address that problem. If your competitors have a robust vulnerability program, your organization may be detected as having weak controls. As that information spreads in the hacker community, you may suffer more impacts.
● Higher Chance Of High-Impact Security Breaches
Some IT vulnerabilities essentially give a hacker a “back door” into your systems. For example, consider the cryptographic vulnerability announced by Microsoft in 2020. This weakness could permit an attack to sidestep many of your normal IT security controls. The vulnerability mentioned here was of such importance that the NSA (National Security Agency) reported the problem. If your company took a long time to address that issue, you could be exposed to higher risk.
● False Sense Of Confidence
If you are not carrying out systematic efforts to manage vulnerabilities, you are likely to be unaware of your current risks. Unfortunately, you are then more likely to suffer “ignorance is bliss” syndrome for a vital part of your IT security program. Since you lack quality information about vulnerabilities, you are unlikely to request resources or staff time to manage them. It’s a slippery slope to IT security incidents!
● Reduced IT Security Reputation
As an IT security professional, you’re not responsible for sales or customer service. Instead, you are trusted with keeping the company’s data and assets safe. If management discovers that there was a public vulnerability announcement that you did not act on, your competence is going to be questioned. To maintain your credibility, you need a robust vulnerability management process.
Developing A Fast Vulnerability Management Process
Before you can build a fast process to manage vulnerabilities, you need to map your current process. Then you will be able to find the opportunities to make improvements. To self-assess your vulnerability management, consider the following questions.
1) What vulnerability management software tools does the organization have?
Attempting to keep pace with new vulnerabilities manually only makes sense if you have a handful of IT assets.
2) How have you verified that your vulnerability management tools have comprehensive coverage for all systems and devices?
Critically analyze what your vulnerability tools tell you. In particular, independently verify if they can cover all of your systems. For example, if you have a tool focused on iOS vulnerabilities, you need a way to cover off non-iOS weaknesses as well. If you can’t get a clear answer from your tool or staff on this point, it is safe to assume that you have gaps.
3) What is your process to manage exceptions to your vulnerability management policy?
Like it or not, sometimes users will resist installing updates or protest against server downtime. Therefore, you might decide to give a temporary exception to address a specific vulnerability. At this point, you need a robust system to track these exceptions and close them in time.
4) Have you identified your most critical software and systems that require intense monitoring (e.g. operating systems and core corporate systems)?
A vulnerability in your operating system could be catastrophic! That’s one example of a high-priority area that requires intensive monitoring. For non-critical systems, use automated monitoring tools to scan for changes.
5) What aspects of your vulnerability management program are reliant on manual updates?
Cut Time From Vulnerability Management Without Sacrificing Quality
Based on your answers to the questions above, you will find a few opportunities to save time. The first big win: improve the software tools you have. Ideally, you want to use a single vulnerability management tool capable of scanning every asset on your network. The second process: assign individual staff to monitor critical systems for vulnerabilities. This added level of care will make problems less likely. Finally, don’t forget about those exceptions! If users feel they can demand an exception without any follow-up, you will gradually drift toward more and more exceptions.
Tip: If the above steps do not significantly improve your vulnerability management program, seek outside support. Specifically, we suggest contacting an IT security consulting firm to evaluate your processes and propose solutions to speed up your vulnerability management processes.
What If Your Vulnerability Management Process Misses Something?
Even if you have highly motivated staff and high-quality tools, you can still miss vulnerabilities. Think about all of the services, cloud apps, and legacy applications you need to monitor. From time to time, your process may break down. In those cases, you need a second line of defense in IT security. That’s where identity and access management plays a role.
You might find that you do not have enough time to optimize IT security processes. In that situation, find out what your employees are spending their time on. You may discover that they are spending hours on IT security administration tasks like resetting passwords. In that case, you need to relieve their workload by introducing automation. Specifically, we recommend using an IT security chatbot.Keeping tight control and oversight over all user accounts is another way to limit the damage of a vulnerability management failure. Start by targeting the most common weaknesses for action. In many companies, reducing inactive user risk is a quick win.