One of the most important ways that an organization can ensure the highest level of network security and reduce cyberrisk is through the implementation of a strong vulnerability management program for its operating systems, as well as any connected network device or cloud platform.

Firewalls that only route traffic and many antivirus software programs have been rendered obsolete. Hackers have found new ways to infiltrate business networks and compromise data. Manufacturing networks can employ an ever-growing list of vulnerability management tools across connected devices, systems and applications to stop malicious actors in their tracks.

Overall, the tools are intended to help create a data-driven vulnerability management solutions that not only solve the issues at-hand, but also minimize company downtime and maximize resource usage.

What are network vulnerabilities, and why do they pose such a risk?

In terms of cybersecurity and computing, a vulnerability is commonly defined as a weakness within a computer network that can be exploited by a hacker to gain entry into a network without permission. A network vulnerability that has gone unnoticed until it is exploited and a system has been compromised is known as zero-day vulnerability.

Vulnerabilities can present themselves in a variety of scenarios – such as through an exploit in software that has not been updated in several months or years, or through a website with weak cyber protection in the form of cross-site scripting. A network with users susceptible to social engineering techniques could also be considered a vulnerability that can be exploited through an email phishing scam, for example.

A network's level of overall cyber risk is increased with the presence of one or more vulnerabilities that can be exploited, for clarification. To exploit vulnerabilities, hackers can use a variety of methods suited to their needs in order to achieve specific goals, mainly the obtaining of sensitive information and other data.

How does one properly approach and implement a vulnerability management program for their business?

Even after implementation, a vulnerability management program is an ongoing process intended to create conditions that reduce the number of access points hackers leverage to gain entry into a network. One way that a business can conduct ongoing vulnerability management is through the use of continuous vulnerability assessments. A vulnerability assessment is comprised of multiple tools used to identify known vulnerabilities, analyze and rank them in order of priority based upon probability and impact. This list of action items then becomes the focus of the remediation team. 

The first step in Certitude Security's vulnerability management process is to inventory all of the computing devices and associated IP assets connected to a network. Profiles are then created for each one as we begin detailing vulnerabilities and other security related concerns. Some organizations maintain a current inventory of IP assets connected to their networks, but most companies do not. This is a basic control stipulated by Center for Internet Security and something every company should have in place, regardless of size.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team recommends that an organization ensure that all affected stakeholders are informed of the vulnerability management process so that a project's scope aligns with the overarching goals and requirements of the entity it is serving. Another step to take before beginning the vulnerability management process is to develop a clear set of rules and guidelines that management teams must follow that determine members' responsibilities, measures of effectiveness and revision processes to fix issues, CERT recommends.

An effective management program typically calls for the use of scanning tools and detection systems to report all vulnerabilities, including any issues or datasets not picked up during the discovery step. One common tool used is automated vulnerability scanning, which can test for false positives while detailing information for all known vulnerabilities, including their current security posture.

Subsequently, the information gathered from the discovery and reporting phases of the management process should be used to prioritize short and long-term responses (including resourcing) to respective vulnerability threats.

Together, these initial steps form what is commonly known as a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment, more of which can be scheduled at future dates as part of a continuous vulnerability management program to provide ongoing insight to remediation effectiveness and problematic legacy assets that require replacement.

In particular, most manufacturers are starting to follow the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and some organizations of all sizes also follow the ISO/IEC 27000 information standards published by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission, which are designed to protect important information and data using comprehensive security controls and vulnerability assessment processes, according to Certitude Security.

In the last phase of a vulnerability management process, generated threat intelligence from the vulnerability assessment and other measures in the initial steps allows for the creation of a response or remediation plan to eliminate, monitor or take further action to resolve vulnerability issues. Further improvements can be made later in the vulnerability management process to improve a program's preventative capabilities as more security-related data becomes available.

hackerVulnerability management is an essential way to prevent hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in your network.

What Are the Tools Available to Manage My Network's Vulnerabilities?

Many of the tools used in a vulnerability assessment are also necessary to conduct proper network vulnerability management, particularly those used in the reporting step. According to the U.S. General Services Administration, some of the main tools used in risk and vulnerability assessments include network mapping and penetration testing, as well as a number of other assessments related to phishing, database, operating system and web application security.

Perhaps the most important tool in both the management and assessment of vulnerabilities is vulnerability scanning.

Perhaps the most important tool in both the management and assessment of vulnerabilities is vulnerability scanning, for which there are numerous options to select based on the desired level of malware protection. Scans can be conducted internally or externally, and can be conducted via unauthorized and authorized (credentialed) means.

Options range from open-source cloud based scanning services that provide advanced threat protection against zero-day cyber attacks, to scanning that helps businesses integrate risk and vulnerability management into the operations, according to the United States Cybersecurity Magazine.

According to the GSA, some of the other tools that can be employed in vulnerability management and assessment operations include:

  • Network mapping: The process of identifying assets connected to a network or specific IP address, which can be helpful in visualizing identified vulnerabilities in relation to assets.
  • Penetration Testing: A test that mimics a cyberattack in real time to achieve a specific purpose, which can be used to test a network's known vulnerabilities before or after they have been patched.
  • Phishing Assessment: A test to determine a network's vulnerability with regard to its users' suggestibility to fall for a social engineering technique known as a phishing scam. The scam tricks users into visiting a website and providing personal information.
  • Operating System Security/Data Assessments: Determine operating system and database cybersecurity levels and overall configurations against "standardized configuration baselines," according to the GSA.
  • Web Application Assessment: Scanning or testing to analyze a network's web application Internet features to determine if there are any vulnerabilities.

To find out more about the vulnerability management process or to get started on the management of your own network's weak points, visit Certitude Security's website to learn more about our recommended management process, schedule a consultation and much more.