Vulnerabilities are a major risk for organizations, and a major attack vector for threat actors. Software exploits accounted for 45% of incidents recorded by Arctic Wolf Incident Response in 2022, and four of the top five vulnerabilities had been originally reported in 2021. Not to mention that the sheer volume of vulnerabilities has risen year after year as organizations digitize and embrace technologies such as IoT and cloud computing.
It makes sense then, that organizations have vulnerabilities on their mind — 81% of respondents surveyed by Arctic Wolf listed vulnerabilities and unknown misconfigurations as their biggest security concern.
But vulnerabilities don’t have to be a danger organizations can’t control. Vulnerability management, and in particular, vulnerability remediation, can drastically reduce risk and harden the attack surface.
What is Vulnerability Remediation?
Vulnerability remediation is the act of removing a vulnerability through patching or another process.
What is the Difference Between Vulnerability Remediation and Mitigation?
Mitigation is developing a strategy to minimize a threat’s impact if remediation is not possible, while vulnerability remediation is the eradication of a vulnerability. Most organizations’ vulnerability management strategy will involve both remediation and mitigation, as it is nearly impossible to remediate every possible vulnerability. Both are key components of hardening the security posture.
The Importance of Vulnerability Remediation for System Security
According to the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), since 2016, the volume of vulnerabilities has just kept growing. That number grew again in 2022, with over 25,000 recorded, and over 800 actively exploited.
While volume does not always equate to severity or organization-specific risk, it is a trend that organizations need to pay attention to as they create and conduct their own vulnerability management.
By focusing on remediation, organizations can greatly reduce their cyber risk and prevent threat actors from utilizing vulnerability exploits as an attack vector. However, it’s easier to see vulnerabilities than it is to remediate them.
Challenges of Vulnerability Remediation
There are four main questions an organization needs to ask itself as it sets out to conduct vulnerability remediation:
- Which vulnerabilities should I remediate first?
- How can I efficiently remediate those vulnerabilities?
- How do I prioritize vulnerabilities based on my resources and business risk tolerance?
- How do I set realistic deadlines for my vulnerability remediation plan?
Of course, those questions are easier to ask than answer, and for many organizations that lack resources, time, or budget, vulnerability remediation can seem like an endless mountain to climb.
It is difficult to determine which vulnerability to remediate first if you don’t have a clear understanding of your overall attack surface. And efficient remediation is all but impossible without contextualization of your entire environment. Unfortunately, that contextualization — including your risk policies, asset context, and SLOs (service level objectives) — is not easy to achieve when you have limited resources and an overwhelmed IT team. Not to mention the time and resources needed to conduct security scans and do the actual remediating.
That is why remediation should just be one part of a full vulnerability management program, which prioritizes continuous vulnerability remediation and assessment, with other components of the program complimenting and assisting overall remediation and mitigation.
Vulnerability Remediation and the Vulnerability Management Lifecycle
The vulnerability management lifecycle has five stages which all happen concurrently. Those five stages are:
- Vulnerability assessment
- Vulnerability prioritization
- Vulnerability remediation
- Verification and monitoring
- Reporting and improvement
For effective vulnerability remediation to occur, the other four stages of the lifecycle must also occur, which is where organizations often encounter challenges, especially if they are under– resourced.
Vulnerability Remediation Best Practices
Because vulnerability remediation is best managed by incorporating it into a successful and efficient vulnerability management program, it’s important to look at what a successful vulnerability management program looks like. The key components of a good vulnerability management program include:
- Attack surface coverage: Identify assets in your environment and define your entire attack surface to understand where your risk lies.
- Contextualization of your attack surface: Understand your risk policies, asset criticalities, and SLOs (service level objectives) to prepare your environment against cyber risk and be able to judge which vulnerabilities present the most risk.
- Prioritization of risk: Assess the risk priorities in your environment according to information that is gathered from the contextualization of your environment and make those the first to be remediated.
- Hardening of your environment: Continuously evaluate and track internal security metrics as you work through the vulnerability remediation process.
- Employee education: A good security awareness program prepares your employees to recognize and neutralize social engineering attacks and human error that are often combined with vulnerability exploits during an incident.
- Creation of an incident response plan: Security is best when it combines proactive and reactive elements. While vulnerability remediation is a strong, proactive, risk-reducing measure, having an incident response plan will help your organization if a software exploit, or other attack, occurs.
Explore the most impactful vulnerabilities of 2022 with our Arctic Wolf Labs 2023 Threats Report.
Understand how partnering with a third party for vulnerability management and security posture hardening can reduce your security risk with our Guide to Proactive Security.