As long as digital computing exists, vulnerabilities will continue to be a pressing issue. Unfortunately, with the advancement of technology and its increasing sophistication, the problem of vulnerabilities is anticipated to escalate for both organizations and individual users.
The exploitation of vulnerabilities by attackers is far from a new concept, and is happening even as I write this article. Hence, it is imperative that we remain vigilant in addressing weaknesses within our networks and systems. With remote work now a staple and unlikely to revert to old norms, the urgency to resolve vulnerabilities in a timely manner has significantly heightened.
Mitigation of vulnerabilities is a matter of immediate action. Any hesitation in resolving vulnerabilities, lack of a routine maintenance schedule, or absence of an emergency vulnerability management strategy, results in an IT infrastructure that resembles swiss cheese. This leaves IT teams in a perpetual cycle of chasing elusive threats, often with little success.
Every organization is unique, carrying distinct compliance requirements and possessing its own set of administrative, technical, and human resources. However, there are some universal actions that can be taken to better manage vulnerabilities. I’ll discuss a few in the following sections.
Weigh Your Assets
In the realm of cybersecurity, context is everything, and vulnerabilities are no exception. Understanding which assets are most crucial in your infrastructure helps IT teams prioritize those that have the most impact on day-to-day operations, are home to or participate in the transmission of sensitive data, or are owned by critical staff. Given that vulnerabilities arise daily and most IT teams do not have dedicated vulnerability teams (quite fancy if you do), it’s essential to prioritize and reduce the attack surface of these assets first. Too many times I’ve seen vulnerabilities addressed by just their level of criticality, neglecting the actual asset being affected. The relationship between the two is extremely important, remember, context is everything.
Employ a Trusted Agent
Now that it’s common for users to work beyond the confines of an organization, and sometimes even beyond the walls of their own homes, it’s imperative to have a technical mechanism in place to ensure their systems remain up-to-date. In the past, being on-premise made it easy to identify vulnerabilities and push updates to devices. Now, it’s crucial to ensure a high-quality (I stress, high-quality) vulnerability management agent is operational on endpoints to capture their posture. Utilizing other mechanisms (preferably integrated ones) to push applicable updates is essential to mitigate weaknesses.
Capture and Correlate
If you are forwarding log data to a SIEM (and I hope you are), it’s beneficial to also forward vulnerability data. Ideally, you’ll want to identify vulnerabilities and their locations with precision. Additionally, enabling your Security Operations (SOC) Team to visualize this aspect of the security posture aids in assimilating relevant threat intelligence, facilitating threat hunting, and streamlining incident response activities. Knowing the potential targets and the extent of an attack with just a few search queries is a time-saver in a domain where time is a precious commodity.
This tactic might not be widely favored (as it can be heavy-handed and potentially impact the “Availability” in CIA), but in certain scenarios, enforcing device compliance might be the exact measure needed to prevent vulnerabilities from spiraling out of control. Utilizing mechanisms that compel users to update their operating systems and applications before accessing resources ensures that devices are up-to-date, thereby relieving the user of this responsibility. It’s important for IT and/or Security Teams to regularly review and update compliance policies to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency.
Vulnerabilities are here to stay and will likely demand more attention in the future. The ascent of artificial intelligence (AI) may aid in mitigating vulnerabilities; however, should this materialize (as it likely will), attackers will harness AI as well (they already are) to enhance the speed and efficacy of their actions. Until then, it’s business as usual. Employing the aforementioned strategies will grant you a fighting chance in this never-ending battle.
About the Author: Al Lyle (LinkedIn)
With over two decades in the IT and cybersecurity realm, Al Lyle stands as a seasoned veteran in the field. As the proud owner of Cyberpacket Technology Consulting, Al boasts an impressive array of credentials, including CISSP and C|EH certifications.
Al’s commitment to the world of cybersecurity and IT is not limited to the professional arena alone. He has imparted knowledge at the university level, teaching online undergraduate courses further nurturing the next generation of cyber professionals.
Holding a Master of Science in Information Technology with a focus on Information Assurance, Al’s expertise goes beyond just knowledge; it’s about application. He has held pivotal roles in IT and Cybersecurity Management. Moreover, his technical acumen shines through in his time served in Security Engineering, Security Operations, Digital Forensics, Cyber Threat Intelligence, and Vulnerability Management roles at a senior technical level.
Additionally, Al is the author of the book “Cybersecurity Simplified: In Less Than 100 Pages”, aiming to break down cybersecurity topics for readers of all backgrounds.
When it comes to cybersecurity, Al Lyle is more than just a professional — he’s a dedicated advocate, educator, and leader.