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Five mistakes of vulnerability management

By Anton Chuvakin
January 11, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Vulnerability management is viewed by some as an esoteric security management activity. Others see it as a simple process that needs to be done with Microsoft Corp.'s monthly patch update. Yet another group considers it a marketing buzzword made up by vendors.
This article will look at common mistakes that organizations make on the path to achieving vulnerability management perfection, both in process and technology areas.
No. 1: Scanning but failing to act
The first mistake is scanning for vulnerabilities, but then not acting on the results. Vulnerability scanners have become a staple at many organizations. Scanning technology has matured in recent years, and the tools' accuracy, speed and safety have improved dramatically.
However, modern commercial and open-source scanners still suffer from the same disease that troubled early intrusion-detection systems (IDS): They are too noisy, since they produce too many alerts, for various reasons. In addition, they don't tell you what you should do about those vulnerability notices, just as most IDSs don't tell you whether you should care about a particular alert.
Thus, vulnerability management is not scanning; it includes it, but what happens after the scan is even more important. This includes asset inventory, prioritizing and researching the remediation activities as well as the actual act of patching, hardening or reconfiguration. A detailed explanation of all the important activities goes beyond the scope of this article.
No. 2. Thinking that patching is the same as vulnerability management
It's true that patching is the way to repair many widespread vulnerabilities. Even some industry experts proclaim that vulnerability management is simple: Just patch all those pesky problems, and you're done.
However, many vulnerabilities can't be fixed by simply updating to the latest product version. They require tweaking and reconfiguring various system parameters. Indeed, vulnerability management was born out of a need to intelligently prioritize and fix discovered vulnerabilities, whether by patching or other means.
So if you are busy every second Tuesday but not doing anything to eliminate a broad range of enterprise vulnerabilities during the other 29 days in a month, you are not managing your vulnerabilities.
No. 3. Believing that vulnerability management is only a technical problem
If you think that vulnerability management is only a technical problem, then you're in for a surprise. To be effective, it also involves attention to policy and process improvements. In fact, focusing on process and the "softer" side of the vulnerability conundrum will often bring more benefits than a high-tech patch management system. There are many glaring weaknesses in IT policies and infrastructures. Let's not forget that policy weaknesses are vulnerabilities, too.



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