First, it’s important to define our terms, as vulnerability management (VM) means a lot of different things to different people. With that in mind, I’ll define VM here as: the process to determine whether to eliminate, mitigate, or tolerate vulnerabilities based upon risk and the cost associated with fixing the vulnerabilities.
Two other relevant terms worth defining are:
- Threat - person, circumstance, or event that has the potential to cause damage to an organizational asset or business function
- Vulnerability - flaw in the design, implementation, or administration of a system that provides a mechanism for a threat to exploit the weakness of a system or process
With those terms now defined, here are 9 key areas that need to be in place to ensure your vulnerability management program is effective, and provides high-value to the organization:
- Identify all network assets
- Define asset criticality rankings (ACR)
- Determine exposures and vulnerabilities
- Track relevant threats
- Determine risk
- Take corrective actions
- Create metrics
- Identify and address compliance gaps
- Implement an automated vulnerability management system
The first task is arguably the most important. If you don’t know what your technology assets are, where they operate, and details about them, then you are simply powerless to fully protect them. As famed management consultant Peter Drucker astutely noted: you can't manage what you can't measure. From an information security perspective, you can’t secure what you don’t know about.
An organization must have a complete inventory and blueprint of their network. This is often accomplished via a network discovery process, with the output being a comprehensive inventory that details every server, workstation, network device, laptop, desktop and everything in between that is on the network. The ability to have a current, updated enterprise asset inventory is a critical aspect of a vulnerability management program.
The last thing any CIO, CTO, or CISO wants to do is play the IT equivalent of Where's Waldo? when trying to find a breached server that is leaking data. But that may be the situation they find themselves in if their resources are not well mapped, and they simply don’t know where the server physically resides, or what its IP address is.
Finally, just as a vulnerability management tool is important, don’t overlook the significance of making sure you have good, trained staff who know:
- how to run the tool
- how to make sense of the tool’s output
- and how to apply that output to address the many vulnerabilities that the vulnerability scanner will find.
Vulnerability management should be a standard component of the information security management and regulatory framework within every organization.
Related Resources for Vulnerability & Threat Mitigation
Ben Rothke, Senior Security Consultant, Nettitude
Ben Rothke (@benrothke) is a senior security consultant with Nettitude and has over 15 years of industry experience in information systems security and privacy. His career incorporates a successful track record across corporate and consulting roles, securing IT assets for numerous Fortune 1000 companies.
He is the author of Computer Security - 20 Things Every Employee Should Know (McGraw-Hill) and a speaker at industry conferences, such as RSA and MISTI, and holds numerous industry certifications.