What are the vulnerability management strategies?

Vulnerability management is the practice of identifying, classifying, remediating, and mitigating vulnerabilities in systems and software. Effective vulnerability management is crucial for organizations to reduce their attack surface and prevent security breaches. In this article, we will explore the key strategies for implementing a robust vulnerability management program.

What is vulnerability management?

Vulnerability management refers to the cyclical practice of proactively identifying, assessing, prioritizing, remediating, and mitigating vulnerabilities in systems, software, and networks. The goal is to reduce the organization’s exposure to vulnerabilities that could be potentially exploited by cyber threats and attacks.

Key aspects of vulnerability management include:

  • Asset inventory – Discovering devices, systems, software across the organization’s environment.
  • Vulnerability scanning – Using automated tools to scan assets and identify vulnerabilities.
  • Risk assessment – Analyzing vulnerabilities to determine the associated risk level.
  • Prioritization – Ranking and prioritizing vulnerabilities for remediation based on severity and criticality.
  • Remediation – Fixing the vulnerabilities through patching, upgrades, or mitigation controls.
  • Reporting – Producing reports to demonstrate vulnerability management performance and progress.
  • Risk acceptance – Making a risk-based decision to accept certain vulnerabilities if they cannot be immediately remediated.

When performed continuously as an ongoing practice, vulnerability management significantly minimizes the attack surface and keeps cyber risk at acceptable levels for the organization.

Why is vulnerability management important?

Here are some key reasons why vulnerability management is crucial for organizations:

  • Protect against breaches – Vulnerabilities are a key factor leading to breaches. Managing them proactively prevents attackers from exploiting them.
  • Meet compliance mandates – Regulations often require vulnerability assessment and remediation. VM enables compliance.
  • Increase visibility – Obtaining visibility into the asset inventory and vulnerabilities enables better cyber risk management.
  • Improve security posture – Fixing vulnerabilities and applying patches hardens systems and improves overall security posture.
  • Enable patching prioritization – Identify critical patches and prioritize them based on vulnerability severity and asset criticality.
  • Facilitate IT planning – Understanding vulnerabilities in existing systems informs technology refresh and investment planning.

Neglecting vulnerability management can leave the organization exposed to unacceptable levels of preventable cyber risk.

What are the key vulnerability management strategies?

Here are the core strategies for building an effective vulnerability management program:

Inventory assets and software

Having an accurate inventory of authorized hardware devices, systems, software, and applications across the environment enables targeted vulnerability scanning and remediation. Inventory should include on-premise and cloud-based assets. Automated discovery tools and configuration management databases can facilitate ongoing asset management.

Scan assets and infrastructure

Periodic vulnerability scanning of IT infrastructure, websites, software, and applications using automated tools is key for identifying security flaws and misconfigurations. Schedule frequent scans to detect new vulnerabilities as assets and configurations change. Leverage vulnerability scanning solutions tailored for diverse environments – network, web applications, cloud, mobile devices, containers, IoT, etc.

Analyze risks and prioritize vulnerabilities

Analyze discovered vulnerabilities using a risk-based approach, taking into account the likelihood of exploitability and potential business impact. Prioritize vulnerabilities for remediation based on severity, asset criticality, and exploitability characteristics. Maintain a current view of your organization’s exposure.

Remediate vulnerabilities promptly

Have a remediation process to rapidly mitigate or eliminate critical vulnerabilities through patching, configuration changes, applying compensating controls, or retiring vulnerable assets. Deploy patches using a phased approach – Prioritize critical assets and infrastructure. Track remediation progress and metrics.

Validate remediation

Verify that remediation efforts successfully fixed vulnerabilities by rescanning treated assets. Perform post-remediation validation to confirm vulnerabilities are addressed adequately before closing them.

Report and monitor the program

Report regularly to management stakeholders on metrics demonstrating vulnerability program coverage, performance, and risk reduction. Illustrate trends through dashboard reporting. Enable stakeholders to track and monitor vulnerability management workflow – discovery scan results, risk analysis, remediation status, effectiveness of mitigation controls.

Integrate with IT workflows

Integrate VM into change management, product lifecycle processes, and technology refresh cycles. Leverage integration capabilities in vulnerability management platforms. Participate in change management processes to assess vulnerabilities introduced by changes.

Foster cross-team collaboration

Facilitate collaboration between vulnerability management, security, IT ops, risk management, and development teams for faster remediation. Provide vulnerability data to other teams – SOC, application developers, technology risk managers.

Perform audits and risk assessments

Integrate periodic penetration testing, red team exercises, and focused vulnerability assessments to validate controls and uncover hidden flaws not detectable through standard scanning. Participate in risk assessments to provide vulnerability data.

Enrich vulnerability data with threat intelligence

Augment vulnerability data with threat intelligence to determine the real-time exploitability of vulnerabilities based on threat actor trends, ransomware targeting patterns, presence of exploits in the wild etc. Helps further prioritize remediation.

Orchestrate workflows with SOAR

Automate and orchestrate vulnerability management workflows by integrating with security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) solutions. Streamline the handoff of vulnerability data to service desk tickets, establish remediation SLAs.

What tools and technologies enable vulnerability management?

Organizations utilize a combination of solutions to implement a complete vulnerability management program:

Vulnerability Scanning Tools

Vulnerability scanners and assessment tools from vendors such as Qualys, Tenable, Rapid7, and beyond continuously scan for vulnerabilities across the environment encompassing infrastructure, applications, containers, cloud, web applications, and networks.

IT Asset Management

IT Asset Management and CMDB solutions like ServiceNow, BMC, Ivanti, and others enable organizations to gain holistic visibility into their asset inventory across on-premise and cloud environments.

Patch Management Software

Patch management systems such as Microsoft SCCM, ManageEngine, SolarWinds, Automox, and others automate patching of vulnerabilities across clients, servers, and endpoints in the environment.

Risk Analysis Platforms

Cyber risk analysis platforms like Kenna, Tenable.io, Skybox, RiskSense, and others contextualize and analyze vulnerabilities data to determine risk levels and enable prioritization.

Ticketing/ITSM Tools

ITSM and ticketing systems like ServiceNow, Jira, BMC Remedy facilitate assignment, tracking, monitoring, and reporting of vulnerability remediation processes.

SIEM Solutions

SIEM and log management tools like Splunk, Sumo Logic, Elastic Stack, ManageEngine, SolarWinds, enable monitoring vulnerabilities for threat behaviors and incident investigation.

SOAR Platforms

SOAR (security orchestration automation and response) systems like Demisto, Siemplify, LogicHub, and others enable automation of VM workflows and integration of disparate tools across the vulnerability management ecosystem.

Threat Intelligence Feeds

Cyber threat intelligence feeds provide current vulnerability exploitability data that can be ingested into vulnerability management platforms to allow enhanced risk analysis and prioritization.

What are some common challenges with vulnerability management?

Some typical challenges faced by organizations in implementing vulnerability management include:

  • Asset sprawl – Lack of complete visibility and inventory of assets hinders effective scanning.
  • Too many vulnerabilities – Overwhelming number of vulnerabilities discovered across global environments.
  • Prioritization difficulties – Inability to correctly prioritize the highest risk vulnerabilities.
  • Scan disruption – Network scanning activities disrupting business operations.
  • Change velocity – Dynamic environments and frequent changes outpace scanning frequencies.
  • Legacy systems – End-of-life systems and embedded devices cannot be patched or retired.
  • Skill shortage – Lack of expertise to run effective vulnerability management programs.
  • Tool sprawl – Too many disjointed tools leading to data silos.
  • Compliance pressures – Difficulty demonstrating compliance due to lack of proof of vulnerability mitigation.
  • Reporting deficiencies – Inability to produce reports articulating exposure levels and risk reduction to management.

How can organizations improve their vulnerability management strategy?

Here are key steps organizations can take to enhance their vulnerability management program effectiveness:

Establish definitive ownership

Designate clear ownership and leadership of the vulnerability management program with appropriate budget and staffing.

Improve asset inventory practices

Leverage automation and configuration management practices to gain comprehensive visibility of assets. Maintain always updated inventory.

Rationalize tools

Consolidate disparate tools into a unified vulnerability management platform providing end-to-end workflow integration.

Tune scanning frequencies

Tailor scanning frequencies based on asset criticality – scan highly sensitive assets more often. Balance business risk vs. scan disruption.

Enhance risk analysis capabilities

Implement capabilities to apply contextual analysis to vulnerabilities using threat intelligence, asset business criticality, and exploitability parameters.

Integrate with IT workflows

Embed and integrate vulnerability management into change management, SDLC, and technology refresh processes for continuous assessments.

Report risk-based metrics

Evolve reporting from tactical counts of scan findings and vulnerabilities to risk-based metrics demonstrating exposure levels and risk reduction over time.

Prioritize patching

Establish dedicated patching windows for vulnerabilities based on severity, asset criticality, and threat landscape trends.

Validate remediation

Verify successful vulnerability remediation through rescans. Don’t close findings without validation scans.


Implementing robust vulnerability management strategies enables organizations to gain control over their exposure to cyber risks. A continuous cyclical workflow encompassing discovery, prioritization, remediation and validation of vulnerabilities is key to minimize attack surfaces. Maturing the vulnerability management program requires supplementing scanning with contextual risk analysis, better asset inventory, strategic remediation efforts, result-driven reporting and embedding practices within IT lifecycles. Organizations must dedicate appropriate leadership, resources and tools towards making vulnerability management a proactive business-driven function delivering quantifiable risk reduction.