5 Steps For Effective Vulnerability Management

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5 Steps For Effective Vulnerability Management

As I sat down to write these tips to manage security vulnerabilities, my smartphone flashed a news notification that criminals had carried out another cyberattack on an Australian company. 

A financial institution, no less…Latitude Financial. 

Cyberattacks on major Australian companies dominated headlines in late 2022. But, consider how cybercriminals attacked large organisations like Medibank Private and Optus. With the resources they have to manage their IT securely, how were they still exposed? 

What does this mean for smaller companies and local businesses? 

And how do you stay on top of managing cyber threats?

As software and tech companies continue to innovate with new updates, one of the consequential side effects is that this can increase security vulnerabilities. Whilst software companies often address these vulnerabilities with a security patch, there is a time when your network is vulnerable to a cyber attack.

With some estimates, about 93% of corporate networks are open to being hacked. And unfortunately, too many businesses don’t prioritise managing these weaknesses, leaving them vulnerable to a breach.  

Alarmingly, 61% of security vulnerabilities in corporate networks are five years old, taking advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities in software code. Vulnerabilities can include ransomware attacks, account takeovers, and other common cyberattacks.

You will often see the term “exploit” when reading about a data breach in the media or online. But you need to know that “exploit” is the vulnerability in your network and systems. Cybercrooks are constantly looking to take advantage of weaknesses in your network and writing malicious code to take advantage of these loopholes and then use it to elevate privileges. 

Or worse, run a system command or perform other dangerous network breaches. 

Here’s how to protect your network and ensure you have an effective vulnerability management process to mitigate your company’s risk. 

Vulnerability Management Checklist

1. Identify your assets to protect  

Firstly, identify all the devices and software (those connected to your network) that you will need to assess; this can include: 

  • Laptops and desktop personal computers
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Servers
  • Cloud services

Security vulnerabilities frequently occur in the operating systems code used for a cloud platform, software, or firmware. To ensure you’re protected, you’ll want to complete an inventory of all systems and endpoints in your network to know what to include in your assessment. 

2. Perform a systems vulnerability assessment.

Typically, this assessment is performed by an IT professional using professional software. First, vulnerability assessment, or penetration testing, scans your systems for well-known vulnerabilities. Then, the tool examines your software against its vulnerability database.

For example, a database may know that a specific version of Microsoft Exchange has a security vulnerability. During the assessment, it detects your company has a server running that exact version. Should that occur, the evaluation has identified a weakness in your security. 

3. Prioritise vulnerabilities by threat level. 

Once the assessment is completed, the results provide a roadmap for mitigating network vulnerabilities. In most cases, you will find there may be several. But it’s important to know that not all are as severe as others. Therefore, as part of the review, you must rank which ones to correct first.

Naturally, you should start with vulnerabilities the assessment identified as most severe. Next, you will find many vulnerability assessment tools that use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), which gives a rating ranging from low to critical severity.

It is also essential that you rank vulnerabilities for your own business needs. For example, if the software is used infrequently on one device, you may rate it as a lower priority. On the other hand, if a vulnerability is found in software used on all employee devices, you may rank it as a high priority.

4. Commence remediation of the vulnerabilities.

It would be best to start remediating vulnerabilities according to the prioritised list. Remediation means applying an issued update or security patch. Sometimes, it may also mean upgrading older hardware that can no longer be updated.

Another form of remediation may be ringfencing, where you “fence off” an application or device from others in the network. Usually, a company may do this if a scan turns up a vulnerability and a security patch still needs to be created. 

Lastly, you can increase advanced threat protection settings in your network. Then, once you’ve remediated the weaknesses you prioritised, it’s crucial to confirm the fixes.

5. Ensure you document your activities.

Documenting the vulnerability assessment and management process for cybersecurity needs and compliance is critical.

You’ll want to document when you last performed the vulnerability assessment. And then record the steps taken to remediate each vulnerability. Keeping these logs is essential in the case of a future breach and can help inform the following vulnerability assessment.

6. Schedule the following vulnerability assessment scan.

In 2022, over 22,500 new vulnerabilities were documented as developers continued to update their software. And each new update has the potential to introduce new security vulnerabilities to your network. 

So, once you have completed a vulnerability assessment and mitigation, you must be prepared for the next. Simply put, vulnerability management is an ongoing process to protect your network against future cyber threats.

It would be helpful to consider it a constant assessment, prioritisation, mitigation, and documentation cycle. 

Need help starting a vulnerability assessment?

When was the last time your business had a vulnerability assessment? If unsure, this is the first step in protecting your network against current and emerging cyber threats. 

Schedule a no-obligation chat with one of our friendly team today.

About the author

Yener is the founder and Managing Director of Intuitive IT. Prior to running his own business Yener worked for a number of corporate organisations where he gained invaluable experience and skills, as well as an understanding of how IT can complement and improve business outcomes.