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Modernizing Vulnerability Management: Beyond Scanning to Continuous Exposure

A recent vulnerability and threat trends report painted a concerning picture of the cybersecurity landscape. By the end of 2022, the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) had cataloged a staggering 192,051 vulnerabilities, surpassing 200,000 Critical Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) in the first half of 2023. The report highlighted another alarming trend: the rapid increase in new vulnerabilities. In 2022 alone, the NVD added a record-breaking 25,096 vulnerabilities, marking a 25% surge from the 20,196 vulnerabilities reported in 2021.

The acceleration of vulnerabilities

The rise in vulnerabilities is an inevitable byproduct of the ever-increasing digitization of organizations. As businesses embrace digital transformation and migrate to the cloud, which was driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic’s remote work requirements, several factors contribute to the increase in vulnerabilities:

  • Rushed Development: Accelerated development schedules have become the norm, often leading to inadequate validation and increased chances of coding errors.
  • Greater Software Complexity: Modern software is more intricate than ever before, creating a larger attack surface and more potential vulnerabilities.
  • Expanding Attack Surface: The more technology an organization deploys, the broader its attack surface becomes, providing cyber attackers with more opportunities.

Traditional vulnerability scanning: A double-edged sword

Historically, many organizations have responded to this escalating vulnerability landscape by conducting scheduled vulnerability scans. While this practice aims to identify vulnerabilities, it often leaves security teams inundated with data.

Although effective at pinpointing software deficiencies, these scans can be highly disruptive. They consume valuable network bandwidth and machine resources, sometimes requiring critical system shutdowns during scanning. As a result, organizations frequently limit scanning cycles to minimize disruptions and cope with the immense data generated. This approach becomes problematic when a new vulnerability emerges, as there is often a significant gap until the next scheduled scan, detection, and patching cycle.

Continuous threat exposure management: Bridging the gap

In today’s cybersecurity landscape, organizations must go beyond reactive practices. With cybersecurity now a top-level concern for boards of directors, a more proactive approach is imperative to effectively manage exposure to cyber risks.

A practical solution to address these challenges lies in implementing a continuous exposure program. This approach combines periodic scanning cycles with intelligence gathered from an in-depth understanding of the organization’s assets and threat feeds. By doing so, it becomes possible to monitor for the presence of new vulnerabilities more frequently without disrupting business operations.

To fully capitalize on the advantages of continuous exposure, organizations should take the following actions:

  1. Adopt a comprehensive approach: Simplify cybersecurity operations by integrating them and eliminating the inefficiencies and exhaustion caused by multiple individual solutions. Employ a unified platform for seamless management of vulnerabilities, compliance issues, network threats, and security policy configurations.
  2. Maintain full visibility: Develop a comprehensive source of truth for the entire attack surface, encompassing on-premise and cloud assets, Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) environments, hybrid networks, devices, and applications. Consolidate all relevant asset information, such as ownership, location, connectivity, and security policies, into a single unified model.
  3. Detect and uncover all vulnerabilities: Move beyond periodic network agent-based scanning by incorporating continuous scanner-less detection methods and leveraging threat intelligence. Continuously ensure compliance by identifying misconfigurations and security control gaps that expose assets.
  4. Evaluate risks and establish priorities: Implement multidimensional risk assessment techniques, such as exposure and access analysis, passive attack simulations, and network modeling. Advanced solutions provide finely tuned risk prioritization, enabling optimal allocation of resources and effective remediation efforts.
  5. Choose the appropriate remediation approach: Prominent solutions in today’s market recommend specific remediation actions and enforce policies and best practices, such as network segmentation, to mitigate risk even when immediate patching is not feasible.
  6. Collaborate with experts: Acknowledge that cybersecurity is a collaborative effort that demands a range of skills and strong coordination among various stakeholders. Select vendors based not only on their technology and products but also on their real-world experience, problem-solving abilities, and capacity to leverage insights from customers and the broader ecosystem.

Prioritizing what matters

Identifying the highest risk exposures is another challenge for security teams. Relying solely on CVE severity ratings, given the sheer volume of scan data, is overwhelming and inaccurate. The adoption of continuous exposure introduces a more refined approach. Each vulnerability is assessed based on severity, asset importance, exploitability in the wild, and accessibility to attackers. This precision enables security teams to prioritize urgent remediation while deferring less critical issues, potentially until the next patch cycle.

Additionally, a view of the attack surface enables the exploration of alternative mitigations, such as network segmentation, IPS signatures, or firewall rule adjustments when immediate patching is not feasible.

A holistic view of cybersecurity

As the cybersecurity landscape evolves and vulnerabilities continue to proliferate, organizations must evolve their strategies beyond routine vulnerability scans. Embracing continuous exposure management allows businesses to proactively manage their cybersecurity posture, prioritize critical exposures, and maintain a comprehensive view of their attack surface. In doing so, they equip themselves to navigate cybersecurity’s complex and ever-changing landscape with agility and precision.