A guide for corporate vulnerability management

I’m sure it goes without saying that there’s no technology that’s 100% perfect. It doesn’t matter how hard you try; there will always be some vulnerability, especially when it comes to cyber security. You could enforce every security measure and best practice at your enterprise, and there will still be some weaknesses in the environment.

But don’t lose hope. Just because you can’t have your environment 100% secured doesn’t mean you can’t get pretty close to perfect. I’ll use this article to help teach you how to figure out what are the vulnerability threat risks in your environment. Also, I want to show you some things you can do to safeguard against them.

What is vulnerability management?

First, let’s talk about vulnerability management. What is it? It’s the process of identifying and addressing any vulnerability in your company’s cyber security. That includes everything from systems to servers, networks, and applications. Each of these plays a critical role in your enterprise information technology and has access to sensitive data.

So, if you’re able to identify these exploits, then you’ll be able to better protect your company from attacks by hackers. And hopefully, prevent data leaks and substantial interruptions to your business’s day-to-day operations.

Why use vulnerability management systems?

Doing an assessment of vulnerability is a critical step in evaluating your IT infrastructure. But then what? That’s when you need to put vulnerability management systems into place. These can include steps for testing and rolling out security patches, workflows for upgrading network equipment, and handling infected devices.

Addressing these types of issues is essential to keeping your environment safe because they can pose a risk of being exploited by a hacker. But on devices that are more crucial to your users, you can’t always immediately take care of these threats. So, having a management system in place helps your team patch up these cybersecurity holes in a timely way without interrupting your employees.

3 stages of vulnerability management lifecycle

As you start to try and improve vulnerability management in your own company, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The life cycle of vulnerability management has three key phases. You’ll want to use these three phases as a template and jumping-off point as you audit servers, applications, and other points of vulnerabilities you’ve identified.

1. Identify and classify

The scariest thing about malware threats is that you don’t know what you don’t know. So, the first step of vulnerability management is to identify and classify any potential vulnerabilities in your company’s IT infrastructure.

There are a variety of methods you can use — things like network scanning, manual testing, and assessing security policies to stay up to date with the latest threats. For the best results, your team would be able to put a combination of all of these methods into practice. Using the strength of all of these assessments to protect your environment to the best of your ability.

Then, after you’ve been able to identify the vulnerabilities, you’ll want to classify them. This might seem like an unnecessary step. But doing this will help you prioritize the issues you come across. You’ll want to dedicate more of your time and manpower to patching up the vulnerability with the largest potential impact and which one is likely to be exploited.

2. Mitigate and verify

Once you’ve identified and classified a vulnerability, it’s time to mitigate it. This is when having a plan of attack can play in your favor. It will afford you the opportunity to smoothly take care of the issue without any downtime to your business. This could be something as simple as applying patches or software updates to user machines or as complex as deploying a new network design or upgrading a server.

After you’ve taken steps to mitigate the vulnerability, it’s just as important to check your work. Make sure all of the mitigation efforts you’ve rolled out have been successful. This might mean running additional tests or continuing to monitor activity for the next few hours or days to ensure it’s been properly addressed.

3. Document

Finally, it is important to document the entire vulnerability management process. This way, you can provide regular reports to management and other stakeholders who might need to see them. If your company frequently works with other partners, some may even require these reports or periodically audit your infrastructure to make sure they can continue to securely work with you.

Why it’s important to have a vulnerability management system

Hopefully, by this point, you don’t need any more convincing. But if you’re looking for more information about setting up vulnerability management systems, then look no further.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most of the malware attacks your company might face are with your end user. Hackers are constantly going after the employees of a company who don’t know any better. Serving them phony security installations for apps that won’t work or prompting them to download an infected file through a phishing email.

Most of these attacks are out of the control of a company’s IT team. However, vulnerabilities that might get overlooked are something every IT person should be on the lookout for.

How to set up a vulnerability management process

When it comes to actually setting up your vulnerability management process, it’s important to understand what your individual workflow looks like. What I cover below might not be what works for your team or your company. You’ll want to take each of these little nuances into consideration before finalizing any process.

A good rule of thumb is to also find a way to include your team in the decision-making process. Keeping them involved will help give them a sense of ownership and make them feel like they have a stake in enforcing these steps.

Here are the steps for setting up a vulnerability management process in a company:

1. Identify the scope of the vulnerability management program

The first thing you’ll want to figure out is the scope of your management program. Anyone who’s had to roll out an IT project can tell you “scope creep” is real and a major problem. Identify what you need to make your vulnerability management program successful and stick to that only.

This is when you’ll find having any network diagrams or system documentation helpful. Using them as a jumping-off point is a great way to save you time. It can also help answer any questions you might have about your environment — especially if you weren’t there when it was set up.

2. Develop a policy and procedures

The next step is to sit down and develop the process for strengthening any of the vulnerabilities that are found. If the last step was about asking the question “What?” then this step is all about answering the “How?”

You should be documenting guidelines for any team member — existing or new — to be able to follow. The purpose of this document is to help your team classify, prioritize, and eventually mitigate every vulnerability that you’ve identified.

3. Search for and classify vulnerabilities

Once the policy and procedures are in place, the next step is to identify and classify individual vulnerabilities in the organization’s systems and assets. As you read earlier, there are a handful of systems and tools that can help you make these assessments. But the best results happen when you’re able to use a combination of tools.

After you find any vulnerabilities, see which policy or procedure it would fall into in your documentation. If there isn’t one, great! This is your chance to create a new policy that your team will need to follow and enforce.

4. Prioritize vulnerabilities

After finding and classifying vulnerabilities, your next step is to prioritize them according to their potential impact and the likelihood of exploitation. You’ll need to weigh out the level of damage. Again, I know this step might feel a bit performative, but it also might prove that the vulnerability doesn’t need to be adjusted at all.

A great example of this is a guest Wi-Fi network that’s completely open to the public. If it doesn’t have any access to internal servers or computers, then there probably isn’t as much of a need to make sure it’s locked down.

5. Create and implement mitigation strategies

Now that you’ve classified and prioritized the vulnerability, figuring out your mitigation strategy is going to be crucial. Is this something you need to take offline immediately and fix? Will a software patch be pushed out after hours? Or is this something severe enough that you would need to take down a portion of your company’s infrastructure for a period of time on the weekend?

Each of these methods requires a different level of effort and can cause varying amounts of downtime for your company and fellow employees. If there’s not already precedent for how to address this particular vulnerability, like in the last step, you’ll need to figure that out and document it for future cases.

6. Verify and document the process

Notice how the first step revolved around documenting and writing out your plan of attack for this project. Well, this final step is going to be the same thing, but for individual vulnerabilities.

Look at how often in this article I recommended going back to that initial documentation you

created. The same thing is going to be true of each vulnerability.

When you finally have them mitigated and you’ve verified that you successfully strengthened your infrastructure, then you’ll want to make sure there’s a record of what you’ve done.

Setting up a vulnerability management process is essential for maintaining the security and integrity of an organization’s IT systems and infrastructure. But you should keep in mind that there is no way to protect your infrastructure from every and any possible security breach. You don’t have to look too far back into history to find a notable company being attacked and losing data.

That said, vulnerability management can help to protect the organization’s data and assets, improve its security posture, and reduce the risk of costly security incidents. Depending on the size of your company, a data breach could also cause bad publicity and leave a mark on your brand’s reputation.