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As many as 66% of small businesses have experienced a cyber attack in the past year, and while that number goes down for larger businesses, many systems are still vulnerable to threats. If you’re interested in improving your company’s cybersecurity posture and ensuring that vulnerabilities are appropriately managed, you’re in the right place.

When we talk about vulnerability management in the world of information technology or IT, we’re referring to the ongoing process of managing cyber vulnerabilities. That means identifying, assessing, gathering data, and reporting on and fixing vulnerabilities in your organization across endpoints, systems, and workloads.

In this post, we will be diving into the topic of vulnerability management and the ways that you can minimize the vulnerabilities in your organization. We’ll cover why vulnerability management is important, how to identify and assess vulnerabilities, and strategies for vulnerability mitigation that can help you maintain a strong security posture.

The current (worrying) state of cybersecurity threats

Cyber attacks and the technological vulnerabilities that lead to them are ranked as the fifth highest area of risk for businesses across the public and private sectors. The global pandemic was a major catalyst for increased risks, as companies in many different verticals struggled with protecting themselves in the new world of remote work.

In fact, cybercrime rates are up 600% as a result of COVID-19 – and that includes everything from data hacking and destruction to embezzlement and theft. With this in mind, pretty much every industry has been forced to quickly adapt and introduce new solutions to manage increased levels of vulnerability.

So how can you ensure that your organization is able to accomplish robust vulnerability management this year and beyond? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss every need-to-know strategy out there.

Why Vulnerability Management needs to be prioritized

Vulnerability management might seem like a complex, esoteric concept that only IT professionals have to worry about. But that’s actually not the case. Whatever your role in your organization, cybersecurity is a topic worth understanding.

Why? At the end of the day, successful cybercrime is incredibly costly. Studies have found that cybercrime will cost companies an estimated total of $10.5 trillion each year by 2025. That’s up a whopping 250% since 2015!

These attacks can come in many forms, but some of the most common types of cybercrime include the following:

  • Phishing or social engineering
  • Credential theft
  • Compromised or stolen devices

None of these attacks are desirable, and they can compromise your company’s security, intellectual property, reputation, and finances. That’s why it’s crucial that you understand how to identify vulnerabilities, assess risks, and fix these problems.

How to identify vulnerabilities

It’s important to conduct regular scans in order to ensure you have a robust understanding of your network’s vulnerabilities. A high-quality vulnerability management product will report security vulnerabilities as well as provide advice on how to remediate these issues.

In order to identify vulnerabilities, you’ll need to conduct a network scan. This process involves discovering the assets on a network, categorizing operating systems and applications on those assets, and then reporting any vulnerabilities that are related to security.

After you receive that report, you’ll need to decide on the right remediation process. Fixing the issue typically involves patching the vulnerable system, but it may also involve implementing configuration changes. If you discover multiple vulnerabilities, a strong IT product should list them in order of priority.

Once you address those vulnerabilities – in other words, you have implemented patches and made changes – you can repeat the vulnerability scan to ensure that the issues have been taken care of and no other issues have been created.

The different types of vulnerabilities you need to know

In the world of cybersecurity, a vulnerability means a weakness in a system or host. It can be something as simple as a missed software update or as complex as a system misconfiguration. But either way, this weakness opens up the opportunity for cybercriminals to take advantage of your IT resources.

Some of the most common types of vulnerabilities include misconfigurations, unsecured APIs, outdated or unpatched software, zero-day vulnerabilities, weak or stolen credentials, unauthorized access, and runtime threats.

Vulnerability scanners and other useful tools

So what can you do about it? One of the most common solutions when it comes to vulnerability management is the vulnerability scanner. This is an automated tool that will be able to identify and then inventory all IT assets that are connected to a network. That would include servers, laptops, desktops, virtual machines, switches, printers, containers, and more. The vulnerability scanner will then report back any identified cybersecurity holes.

Assessing and prioritizing risks

Sometimes, your vulnerability scan will yield more than one result, and there will be multiple issues that you need to address. Of course, we hope this is never the case – but it’s more than likely. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how to prioritize the most crucial risks first in order to minimize your losses in the long run.

Risk prioritization refers to the process of identifying all the present risks and then deciding which ones are most severe or pressing. Once you have made those distinctions, you can rank the risks or vulnerabilities in order from most to least severe and then go through the process of fixing them in that same order.

Risk assessment methodologies

In order to decide which risks are more pressing and urgent, you’ll need to think about how likely an incident is to occur, what level of damage it would cause should it occur, and its impact on your information security. A general rule of thumb is to always prioritize fixing risks that would impact the confidentiality or security of information or intellectual property.

Tools and techniques for prioritizing risks

These days, automating your risk management is an excellent and accessible way to protect your organization’s data and other assets. There are plenty of companies out there, like Atera, that are focused on providing all-in-one solutions that bundle vulnerability discovery with vulnerability prioritization.

You’ll be able to identify risks and rank them in order of priority in one fell swoop. With efficiency and results-driven tools like those, you will be able to dedicate your efforts and those of your team to more complex problems that require your best critical thinking skills and can’t be automated.

Different ways to mitigate vulnerabilities

Finding and prioritizing vulnerabilities is one thing, but mitigating them – or fixing them – is truly the end goal. In this section, we’ll explore how you can do that both before vulnerabilities appear and after they’ve been identified.

When you’re looking to protect yourself from malware or other cybersecurity risks, it’s essential to set yourself up for success rather than playing catch-up on the backend. That’s why you can set up systems that will make your organization less susceptible to attacks, like zero-trust architectures.

Of course, some vulnerabilities will always slip through the cracks. That’s why a robust network discovery system is essential for modern-day IT departments. You will probably need to do some patching and remediation for vulnerabilities during your time as an IT professional, even if you have best-in-class cybersecurity protections in place.

Strategies for patching and remediating vulnerabilities

One of the most common strategies for remediating vulnerabilities is called “patching.” In the IT world, a “patch” is a name for a modification that’s made to a program in order to improve its performance, security, or other features.

Patches are also sometimes referred to as “bug fixes” — that’s because they are created to smooth over imperfections in code discovered by an app’s users or developers. In order to make edits, developers harness the power of debugging software or automated patch management with the goal of creating patches that can be either permanent or temporary.

Patching allows developers and IT professionals to fix any issues that have created openings for cyber attackers to make harmful moves. They’re an excellent solution when it comes to keeping your organization and network sage.

Patching isn’t the only way to mitigate risk, however. Isolation and segmentation are two other popular methods. Network segmentation is a security technique that involves dividing a network into smaller silos (usually called VLANS, or virtual local area networks).

Making these divisions allows the IT team to use unique security controls within each network, which creates a more secure system that is resistant to cyberattacks. Network isolation is a similar strategy that keeps sub-networks separate from each other for security purposes.

Maintaining security posture

Your “security posture” refers to your organization’s ability to defend against cyberattacks and quickly bounce back from them. It involves the security status of all an organization’s networks, data, systems, and people – as well as the resources it employs to protect them.

Importance of maintaining security posture

As the frequency of cyberattacks has increased consistently every single year, it’s more important than ever to maintain a strong security posture. When you have a strong security posture, that means that you’re able to protect yourself from security issues and, if they do occur, recover from them quickly with minimal damage.

In terms of the bottom line (literally), failing to maintain a strong security posture can be quite costly. If your eCommerce site goes down, your healthcare data is accessed, or your financial information is invaded, you’re going to see huge losses. Understanding your company’s security posture is a crucial piece of understanding its financial posture.

Vulnerability management has been developing significantly over recent years, and last-minute patching is no longer a feasible (or safe) solution. That’s why it’s important to invest in ongoing vulnerability management strategies like consistently performing inventories of assets, establishing a consistent patching schedule, automation key processes, and more.

Types of testing that can be performed to ensure security posture

To make sure that your security posture remains strong, you will need to conduct regular and in-depth security assessments. These should involve inventorying your digital assets and assessing how much risk each one represents. This data should be mapped against both known and potential vulnerabilities.

These assessments should also measure any risk that comes from vendors, suppliers, service providers, partners, or contractors – this is especially relevant if any of these individuals have access to your company’s internal systems or data.

Cybersecurity is no small thing — and it shouldn’t be treated like one. Companies that are able to maintain a strong security posture and have a robust understanding of their vulnerabilities and how to deal with them are in a much better position than those that do not.

Applying the knowledge and strategies that you’ve learned in the course of this article is an excellent way to get started. Of course, the next step is ensuring that you have an all-encompassing automated system like Atera’s to protect your organization and minimize the risk associated with high levels of cyber threats.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is vulnerability management?

What are the different types of vulnerabilities that can be found in a system?

How do vulnerability scanners work?

How do I prioritize which vulnerabilities to address first?

What are some strategies for mitigating vulnerabilities?

How often should vulnerability assessments be performed?

What are some best practices for maintaining security posture over time?

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