6 Stages of the Vulnerability Management Process

Managing risks is one of the most crucial processes in a software or app development lifecycle. To ensure a flawless and safe user experience, it’s important to make sure that all digital assets owned by a company, whether they are customer-facing, public, or private, are free from security vulnerabilities. Even the most minute vulnerabilities can lead to massive security breaches. To avoid such unfortunate instances, it’s important to conduct the vulnerability management process.

Stages of the Vulnerability Management Process

Here are the 6 important stages that help protect your business’s assets from security threats:

Stage #1: Evaluate Your Assets for Vulnerabilities

Before spotting and assessing vulnerabilities, you must identify and evaluate the IT assets that are highly critical for your company's cybersecurity infrastructure. These assets may include computers, servers, virtual machines, operating systems, server software, containers, network devices and routers, web and SaaS applications, databases, etc. Unfortunately, the collection of assets for large companies and enterprises is often quite dynamic, making it hard for software testers to discover all assets that are at risk. This is why vulnerability management is not a one-time process.

To keep track of new, modified, or missing assets that are highly critical to your company's security infrastructure, we recommend using your IT inventory as a baseline and detecting changes using the following methods:

  • • Agent-Based Monitoring
  • Agents are software components deployed to a company's IT infrastructure to report local assets like active network services, running applications, installed software packages, servers, etc.

  • • Agentless Monitoring
  • Agentless monitoring involves identifying vulnerable assets without deploying assets via remote network access, SaaS APIs, remote database access, or a simple network monitoring protocol.

  • • Network Traffic Monitoring
  • Network traffic is usually monitored to identify API endpoints and network services. However, it can only detect assets that use the network.

  • • Manual Inventory Monitoring
  • You can also manually refine the inventory list of every department occasionally. In ideal use cases, manually added assets are included in the next cycle's automated discovery.

Stage #2: Prioritize Assets Based on Budget, Resources, and Time Constraints

Teams must manage the vulnerability with budget, time, and resource constraints. Not all assets require high levels of protection. Hence, it's important to prioritize the most vulnerable assets to security threats and require high levels of protection. An application only used by your employees over a secure local network might not require as much protection as a customer-facing application. Therefore, it's important to prioritize such assets. You can identify critical assets in your business's IT infrastructure through the following steps:

• Assign a business value to every asset
Before setting priorities, it's important to determine the value of each business asset, the potential implications of not implementing enough security measures, and the cost of the assets.

• Use business metrics
Monitor different aspects of your business operations like customer transaction volume, recurring revenue, legal liabilities, costs of reputation damage in the case of a cyberattack, etc. Security is one of the most crucial elements of your company's IT infrastructure, and you must have a cyber risk management framework to mitigate and resolve security threats.

• Identify crucial assets
After carefully evaluating your business's IT elements, you must identify the assets that play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth functioning of your business activities.

vulnerability management process

Stage #3: Assess the Severity of the Vulnerabilities

Assessing vulnerabilities is probably the most important stage in the vulnerability management process. You must create an intuitive, robust, foolproof scanning system that detects various vulnerabilities and builds risk profiles for every asset. Different vulnerability scanners cover different asset classes. The precision and scale of scanning depend on the asset's priority. Highly critical assets are scanned multiple times to discover even the tinniest security loopholes. Some common types of scanners used to scan assets for different vulnerabilities include database scanners, general scanners, custom scanners, operating systems, web applications, and SaaS scanners.

• Vulnerability Validation
Not only should you scan critical assets for vulnerabilities, but you should also validate those before proceeding towards remediation. There are instances where you need to evaluate the effectiveness of your vulnerability management process, as some scanners report false positive bugs. We recommend using penetration testing tools and performing manual testing to validate such vulnerabilities.

• Vulnerability Databases
Hackers keep exploring new vulnerabilities and new techniques to exploit them. Companies must constantly invest their time, funds, and resources to protect their systems from such security threats. Cybersecurity experts update scanning tools and share new vulnerabilities, cybersecurity threats, and exploitation techniques with the help of vulnerability databases like the CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure) catalog. Considering how quickly hackers develop new exploitation techniques, updating these scanning tools frequently is important.

Stage #4: Report Vulnerabilities to Stakeholders

Once you've detected and validated vulnerabilities in your IT assets, you must report them to various stakeholders and team members through comprehensive and insights-driven reports. Here are the stakeholders you must share your assessment reports with:

• Security teams
Provide cybersecurity experts in your team with technical details regarding all detected vulnerabilities so that they can devise effective security plans.

• Risk and compliance teams
Your software or app must comply with different standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). They must follow different guidelines, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework. Therefore, we recommend sharing your reports and risk profiles for each critical asset with the risk and compliance team.

• Executives and management
Apart from technical teams, it's also important to communicate your assets' overall security state and performance metrics to executives and managers. It enables them to find business, organizational, and legal solutions to such security issues.

Stage #5: Remediate Vulnerabilities

In this stage of the vulnerability management process, security teams, developers, and software testing experts work cohesively to manage every detected vulnerability and risk based on their respective priorities. Here are the three approaches teams use to eliminate vulnerabilities:

• Acceptance
Sometimes, the vulnerabilities found are too low-risk and relatively harmless. Hence, teams often prefer ignoring these vulnerabilities and addressing them later in the cycle when necessary.

• Remediation:
Remediation is used to secure the most critical IT assets because it requires more time and resources. This approach involves properly closing down vulnerabilities to ensure that no attacker or hacker can exploit them again. Some techniques used to remediate vulnerabilities include re-architecting systems and patching software.

• Mitigation:
As the name suggests, mitigation is an approach used to reduce the risks of a vulnerability without shutting it down completely. This approach is normally considered when the budget is limited and several high-priority vulnerabilities are up the pecking order.

The remediation plan is usually prepared based on the reports created in the reporting phase of the vulnerability management process. Cybersecurity experts keep tracking and updating the progress on dashboards and platforms like Jira to communicate the real-time status of the remediation process.

Stage #6: Reassess and Verify the Outcomes

After fixing the bugs and patching all crucial security loopholes, it's important to reassess the outcomes of the remediation phase and ensure all bugs and security vulnerabilities have been addressed. In the end, you'll be able to ensure that all known vulnerabilities have been resolved and verified through continuous scanning.

Bottom Line

The vulnerability management lifecycle saves your IT assets from security breaches and enable you to deliver secure and intuitive digital products. Hence, it is important to prioritize this process before delivery and deployment.