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When discussing cyber risks, among the most common terms that are used are vulnerabilities, exploits, and threats. It is necessary to understand the difference between these terms and what they mean in order to properly define Vulnerability Risk Management (VRM). At the same time, knowing the difference can empower defenders to effectively use their scarce time wisely, by prioritizing remediation actions and efficiently allocating resources to protect against those exploitable vulnerabilities that actually pose the most danger to the organization.

Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability represents a flaw in the measures you take to secure an asset. They can expose your assets to serious damage and can be found in operating systems, apps, or hardware. In short, vulnerabilities make threats possible. Examples of vulnerabilities could be a software flaw or edgy programming/ IT infrastructure configuration, unstable business operations, maliciously or involuntarily staff actions. As my colleague Bianca stated when discussing vulnerability management, vulnerabilities can be both known and unknown. A good remediation vulnerability management process should cover all potential vulnerabilities and their impact on a company.

Exploits

An exploit is an attack that takes advantage of vulnerabilities. Exploiting is trying to turn a vulnerability into a way to breach a system, with the purpose of taking control over an asset. Generally, we use the term exploit to describe software developed to attack an asset by making use of a vulnerability. Exploits can also be used to attack an operating system or application vulnerability in order to gain remote access privileges on a laptop or server – a common objective of malware.

A security breach is an example of the successful exploit of a database vulnerability providing the means for an attacker to gain access to records from that database (see the case of Clubhouse). Exploits are used for various reasons, from gaining financial information to tracking a user’s location. Our Heimdal™ Patch & Asset Management solves issues related to exploits, enables you to automate your patching process, and efficiently manage vulnerabilities. What’s more, you will gain extensive vulnerability intelligence on your patched software and the current liabilities in your environment. This allows you to assess the need to intervene on certain endpoints if a risk persists for too long.

Threats

A threat is a possible danger that you’re trying to protect against. They may or may not happen, but they’re basically anything that might exploit a vulnerability to breach security and cause serious damage. Threats can result in attacks on computer systems, networks, and so on. They need to be identified, but generally, we have no direct control over threats and, unfortunately, they often can’t be stopped.

According to the BCM Institute, a cyber risk “refers to the potential impacts that an organization can suffer from a cybersecurity attack that has affected their information assets, disrupting business operations.” Risk can be mitigated and managed to either lower vulnerability or the overall impact on the business. For a security incident to occur a vulnerability must be present in some form and a threat must exploit that vulnerability.

Therefore, Vulnerability Risk Management, or Risk-based vulnerability management (RBVM), is a cybersecurity strategy in which organizations emphasize software vulnerabilities remediation according to the risk they pose. A risk-based vulnerability management strategy has several components.

  • It uses threat intelligence to identify the vulnerabilities attackers are discussing, experimenting with, or using, and to generate risk scores based on the likelihood of exploitation.
  • It is mindful of the business context of multiple assets as an intrusion into some network segments may be more harmful or probable than others.
  • It combines risk assessment and asset criticality, thus focusing patching efforts on the vulnerabilities that are most likely to be exploited and that reside on the most critical systems.

Unlike legacy vulnerability management, risk-based vulnerability management doesn’t just discover vulnerabilities. It helps you comprehend vulnerability risks with threat context and potential business impact awareness.

 

LEGACY VULNERABILITY MANAGEMENT

 

RISK-BASED VULNERABILITY MANAGEMENT

 

  • Assesses only traditional assets
  • Sees the entire attack surface
  • Classifies vulnerabilities by CVSS score
  • Prioritizes vulnerabilities based on the full context of business risk
  • Static, point-in-time scoring
  • Dynamic, continuous visibility
  • Checks minimum compliance boxes
  • Drives decisions to maximize risk reduction

Why Is Vulnerability Risk Management So Important?

The importance of risk-based vulnerability management is driven by the fact that large enterprise networks contain more vulnerabilities than their cybersecurity teams can fix. In short, the scale of vulnerability management at large organizations makes it quite challenging. According to a research by Kenna Security,

Cybersecurity executives at large organizations can manage, on average, 80,000 IT assets including laptops, servers, routers, and internet-connected printers. Combined, these assets may hold 40 million vulnerabilities.

However, the same research points out that companies have, on average, the capacity to remediate just one out of every ten vulnerabilities on their systems.

Generally, organizations prioritized the vulnerabilities they needed to patch based on rules, compliance needs, and the hypothetical harm an attack could cause. For instance, the CVSS open framework rates vulnerabilities based on the damage they would do if exploited. But it has been demonstrated that many vulnerabilities with high CVSS scores have little risk of exploitation or none at all. Given this uncertainty, it is considered a waste of resources to patch a vulnerability that most probably will not be exploited.

The benefits of moving to an RBVM platform are significant.

#1. The ability to identify what to fix first

This first step represents a win-win for both teams. Clearing the traditional disagreements that can often exist between IT and security teams, everyone can understand what is a priority and what is not – and why.

#2. Security teams no longer have to generate extended patch lists

Instead, they are confident that they are taking the right actions to protect the organization. In the meantime, IT teams know that they can concentrate on a clearly defined set of cybersecurity concerns that can be remediated without adversely impacting application or web services availability.

#3. Security and IT teams can work hand-in-hand across multiple business units

As they are able to spend less time chasing highlighted vulnerabilities that actually don’t pose a particular threat to their organization, they can now prioritize remediating those vulnerabilities that actually represent the greatest risk. As far as cyberthreats are concerned, they are able to leverage their new-found efficiencies to focus instead on other strategic projects.

#4. RBVM platforms enable these teams to clearly communicate their strategies

More exactly, besides enabling improved collaboration between security and IT teams, they can report how they are lowering risks for the organization as a whole. What’s more, they can support risk-intelligent decision-making going forward in the context of the organization and its IT infrastructure.

With the proper cybersecurity knowledge and practices, as well as reliable services, RBVM will come at hand. As always, Heimdal™ Security can help you with the right solutions. If you want to know more about which of our company products are best suited for your needs, don’t hesitate to contact us at sales.inquiries@heimdalsecurity.com.

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