- Understanding your existing infrastructure
- Having the right scanning tools
- Creating a system for prioritization
- Involving your whole team
A growing number of business owners recognize the importance of reducing their IT vulnerabilities. You want to protect your assets, including every part of your IT infrastructure that has value to your company, that could be leveraged against you by a hacker, or that could connect a hacker to other assets.
But it can be difficult to know exactly how to implement vulnerability remediation best practices effectively across your business. Organizations often find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of network risks that scan reports identify.
With the right vulnerability remediation strategy, your company can prioritize whichever risks pose the greatest threats, along with the work needed to eliminate them. Read our tips and get started today!
What Is Vulnerability Remediation?
Before you can implement the best practices for vulnerability remediation, it’s important to understand exactly what remediation is and where it fits into vulnerability management.
For those outside the cyber security field, it can be easy to confuse vulnerability remediation with vulnerability management. In short, remediation is simply one part of vulnerability management.
- Vulnerability management refers to the entire process of managing your network’s vulnerabilities and the threats it faces. This includes finding, evaluating, prioritizing, and eliminating threats. A comprehensive vulnerability management strategy works to both address liabilities that have already been exploited by hackers and resolve potential threats that could be exploited.
- Vulnerability remediation is a crucial step in any vulnerability management process. It includes the actual measures taken and work performed to reduce or eliminate threats. Of course, successful remediation relies on other parts of vulnerability management, especially proper assessment of the threat levels of potential risks. In order to verify the effectiveness of any cyber security measures taken as part of your vulnerability remediation, as well as improve your remediation outcomes over the long term, you should also regularly evaluate your remediation efforts.
When an organization decides to begin vulnerability management, the first step—identifying risks to your IT infrastructure—is relatively easy. There is an abundance of thorough vulnerability scanners capable of scouring your network. The more complicated part is figuring out what to do about the thousands of vulnerabilities these scanners often uncover.
It is usually not a realistic goal for your business to address every single one of these possible liabilities. That’s why you shouldn’t simply start plodding through the scanner’s list in order, bogging your company down with lesser threats while larger ones loom indefinitely in the distance.
Most scanners will rank vulnerabilities discovered via categories that notate the most severe (critical) to the least (low). Focusing on the high-severity vulnerabilities will help keep things focused while not becoming completely overwhelming.
Setting your vulnerability remediation up for success allows you to address the highest priority threats as efficiently as possible—without becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer volume of threats. Consider these vulnerability remediation best practices to help you develop a cohesive, logical approach to minimizing your company’s risks.
4 Vulnerability Remediation Best Practices
How do you ensure that you’re optimizing vulnerability remediation efforts for your business? To help you get started, we’ve outlined four vulnerability remediation best practices.
1. Understanding Your Existing Infrastructure
Before you can determine which vulnerabilities need to be prioritized, you must create a working map of your network’s structure. This map or flowchart should include all of your organization’s hardware, software, and cloud computing, as well as both running and dormant applications, services, and systems.
In other words, it should be clear which programs and devices communicate with one another, and in which directions information flows. Your IT infrastructure map should also include personnel responsible for each piece of technology. This makes it easy for your team to know who to coordinate with regarding specific threats and remediation tasks for each asset, streamlining the process.
If a hacker were to make it through your network’s initial line of defense, they may proceed to move laterally, or sideways, through your network. This can allow them to gain access to increasingly valuable assets and sensitive data.
Having a working understanding of each component of your network will help you decide which areas of your infrastructure are key to protect from hackers using a lateral approach. To make the most of your vulnerability remediation, be sure to address major threats to these critical areas.
2. Having the Right Scanning Tools
With so many vulnerability detectors out there, knowing which one is optimal for your business can be tough. The right vulnerability scanner will help you accurately locate your vulnerabilities before they are exploited. Here are some tips for confidently choosing the right tools to locate potential liabilities within your network:
- Take advantage of continuous scanning. Given the rapid pace at which technology evolves, your personnel and departments are likely incorporating new elements into your business’ network all the time. To keep up with these new changes and the risks they carry, consider using an automated vulnerability management program that can proactively monitor your network and endpoints nonstop. If continuous scanning is not feasible with your finances or resources, come up with a realistic schedule for scans to be completed (such as weekly, biweekly, or even monthly) that does not overwhelm your company’s IT team.
- Observe internal and external processes. It’s important to scan for vulnerabilities within as well as outside your network. External scans help detect potential vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit to enter your network. Internal scans, on the other hand, can discover vulnerabilities that allow for lateral movement once inside your network. Both are crucial in ensuring the effectiveness of your vulnerability remediation efforts and the security of your business.
- Choose authenticated software for internal scans. When you run an unauthenticated scan, the program is only able to guess at what types of devices and operating systems are running. Authenticated scans, however, don’t rely on such haphazard guesswork. They are able to read all device and software types in your internal network. This type of vulnerability management software requires user authentication, too, which further bolsters your defense against threats. Just make sure you give access only to legitimate software manufacturers.
3. Creating a System for Prioritization
Rather than haphazardly attempting to solve thousands of vulnerabilities, your organization needs to develop an efficient system for determining which vulnerabilities should be addressed first.
Properly prioritizing your vulnerabilities and their related remediation efforts is crucial to achieving better remediation outcomes. If your team is spending too much time and effort on the wrong vulnerabilities and a critical asset is compromised, it can take even more significant resources to try to fully rid the hacker from your network while also resolving the threat.
These are some questions you should ask yourself and your team in order to build your prioritization process around vulnerability remediation best practices:
- How valuable is this asset to your business? In many cases, you will want to prioritize the remediation of vulnerabilities that would dramatically disrupt your company’s operations on either a day-to-day or big-picture scale (think mission statement) if they were compromised.
- What skill level would a hacker need to manipulate this vulnerability? Vulnerabilities that can be exploited via automation are more dangerous than those that require adept hackers, given how little effort they require to execute.
- What would a cyber criminal be able to gain or leverage if they successfully exploited this vulnerability? Would this vulnerability give them direct access to sensitive data about your clientele or operations? What about indirect access via other assets of higher value? How much of your personnel would this cyber crime affect? Could this kind of exploitation cause serious loss of revenue or even put you out of business?
- How old is this vulnerability? Typically, the older a software or operating system (and patch level) is, the more likely it can be hacked. And the longer an asset has remained vulnerable, the longer hackers have had to learn how to exploit it.
- What are the risks of remediating this vulnerability? Technology is often incredibly interconnected. Fixing one vulnerability might lead to other hardware or software that needs to be updated or modified. This, in turn, can create potential new vulnerabilities as your team works to integrate everything into the new system. Therefore, it may not always be prudent to remediate vulnerabilities with these risks—at least, not without careful planning and proper support to minimize those risks. In these situations, devising risk mitigation strategies (alternative measures—without patching—that disable the vulnerability in question) will render the vulnerability unusable, while keeping software and OS patch levels at the current, needed level.
- Is my organization capable of remediating this vulnerability? If not, what would it take to gain that capability? Is it worth the time, effort, and resources to try to address internally, or should it be outsourced? Ultimately, you need to come up with a baseline for what your organization can realistically accomplish with its vulnerability management.
4. Involving Your Whole Team
Even if you were somehow able to remediate all of your organization’s vulnerabilities, it would not solve what is ultimately the greatest risk for most companies: their employees. In fact, research on historical cyber claims data indicates around 90% of cyber attacks result from employee behavior.
Most employees are not, of course, deliberately trying to create security risks for your organization. Vulnerabilities created by your staff are usually caused by mistakes, negligence, or ignorance about safe cyber practices.
Many common behaviors carry security risks, from using weak or repeated passwords, to connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi signals, to falling prey to a phishing scam. Something as seemingly innocuous as leaving the computer at your workstation unlocked while you take a break could easily lead to a breach and the downfall of a company.
That’s why it is crucial for all employees, not just your IT department, to be well-versed in basic cyber security hygiene, practices, and techniques, as well as aware of your company’s vulnerability remediation efforts. Generally, the most efficient way to accomplish this is through periodic staff training sessions. From learning stronger password practices to using a de-identification system for sensitive information, your employees’ actions can go a long way toward improving security.
Vulnerability Remediation Best Practices for Patches
Vulnerability patching is the practice of looking for vulnerabilities in your hardware, software, applications, and network, then resolving those vulnerabilities. Your patches consist of the changes you make in an attempt to fix vulnerabilities in these systems. Patching can include either system updates or coding changes.
When it comes to patch management, you should follow vulnerability remediation best practices that take into account your exposure, urgency, and plans for patch modifications post-deployment. Consider these 3 steps for safer vulnerability patching.
Step 1: Testing the Patch
After identifying a vulnerability and creating a patch, it is crucial to test the patch before implementing it in a live environment. This will help ensure that the patch actually solves the issue at hand and does not create new issues in the process.
When testing a patch, use the following procedures to confirm that it works:
- Test the system hardware that will be used with the patch.
- Use a testing environment that closely simulates the normal operational environment for the system and allows for software compatibility testing.
- Confirm that the patch does not cause conflicts with coexisting system applications.
- Exercise the functionality of the system.
- Demonstrate that removal of the installed patch is possible without impacting operations.
- Confirm that the patched system remains functional.
In general, a thorough patch testing plan should include any measures that can verify the patch’s validity. Your IT team should also create checklists and procedures for patching activities to ensure both initial accuracy and repeatability of these processes, along with records of the patches, tests, and configuration changes. There should also be a disaster recovery plan in case the patch management process fails and causes additional issues.
Step 2: Applying the Patch
Before applying any patches, it is essential to have an inventory of assets categorized to prioritize critical patches and track already tested patches. Your IT team should also maintain a patch management schedule to keep track of the patches you’re ready to deploy.
Once a patch is applied, it is necessary to assess the deployment and identify any issues that require mitigation. The post-deployment assessment analyzes the system logs and exceptions and formally verifies that all planned patches occurred correctly.
If any serious issues arise, your IT team should follow the disaster recovery plan to return the system to the pre-patch state.
Step 3: Verifying the Patch
After deploying a patch, the final step is to verify the success of the patch, as well as the vulnerability remediation best practices and processes you followed.
To check if your patch was successful, rescan IP-connected assets. This allows you to verify that the patch worked and no other network devices, systems, or applications encountered a malfunction. Store these scan reports accordingly, as they can provide the documentation necessary for compliance with certain regulatory security provisions, such as those required by HIPAA.
Vulnerability remediation best practices are most effective when they are put into practice on a consistent basis. Take the time to refine your vulnerability management process as you encounter vulnerabilities, so it can best serve your organization in the future.
Even Small Businesses Are at Risk
When we hear about cyber attacks in the news, the victims are usually large companies or governments. At our New Orleans headquarters, for instance, we have read countless articles about the recent hacks of Louisiana schools and government bodies.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense is implementing new compliance requirements for defense contractors to ensure companies working with the DoD have adequate cyber security measures in place. But cyber attacks pose a huge threat to smaller businesses and organizations, too.
In fact, a 2018 cyber security report found that nearly 70% of small businesses surveyed had experienced a cyber attack within the last year. Between fixing their damaged networks and losing productive work hours, these kinds of attacks generally cost businesses an average of $380,000—a price so steep that 60% of those attacked businesses had to close their doors forever.
The purpose of vulnerability remediation is to prevent such detrimental cyber attacks from happening in the first place. Instead of only blocking hackers from your network after they have already cost you valuable time and resources, following vulnerability remediation best practices can help you keep hackers from weaseling into your network in the first place.
Contact Us for Vulnerability Management Support
Cyber security breaches are an unfortunate inevitability in our tech-laden contemporary business landscape. Recognizing the importance of strategic, efficient vulnerability management and implementing a tailored plan is imperative to stay ahead of the curve.
Proper vulnerability management can prevent the majority of potential breaches from occurring, or at least stem the loss when they do. Taking it all on in-house can be a huge project and become overwhelming very quickly.
At Sentient Digital, Inc., we can help assess your vulnerabilities and security needs. Our cyber security experts can lend support to any aspects of your vulnerability management that require outside resources or specialized skills. We are also fully equipped to handle your complete vulnerability management, from identifying risks to remediating them.
With our cyber security expertise ranging from small businesses to government entities, we can create a comprehensive vulnerability management plan specifically tailored to your organization’s existing needs and structure.
Contact us today to discuss how we can help with your vulnerability management.