What is Vulnerability Management?

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Vulnerability Management is the process of discovering, identifying, prioritizing and ultimately remediating vulnerabilities and risk in your IT systems, application infrastructure and systems.


A software vulnerability is a defect in software that could allow an attacker to gain control of a system. As attacks become more advanced and threats more widespread, organizations need to take a proactive approach to vulnerability management to limit attacks and minimize damage when the attacks succeed.

Purpose of vulnerability management

Managing software vulnerabilities is fundamental to contending with today’s security threats. Whether relying on software created by third parties, software built by internal developers or a combination of both, the ability to detect and manage software vulnerabilities is absolutely central to securing the software supply chain and aligning with current shift left security trends.

Benefits of implementing vulnerability management

The major benefit of vulnerability management is the ability to prevent security incidents from happening by prohibiting the use of code, third party packages and dependencies that contain known vulnerabilities. Additional benefits of taking a proactive approach to vulnerability management include:

  • Reduced risk and exposure by identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited
  • Regulatory compliance for industries and organizations with stringent requirements regarding cybersecurity
  • Enhanced reputation and trust among customers, partners, and other stakeholders
  • Cost-efficiency from preventing expensive breaches, downtime, and legal liabilities associated with security incidents

That said, there are also cases where potential vulnerabilities are present, but do not constitute a potential threat within the context of a particular application.  In such cases, the benefit of having a vulnerability management solution is actually not to prohibit the use of a particular piece of code, but rather to allow it. This saves developers, DevOps teams and security professionals significant time and resources by concentrating on the vulnerabilities that pose actual threats rather than those that are benign.

Vulnerability Management Strategy

The most important component of vulnerability management is to outline a plan for detecting, preventing, prioritizing, and mitigating vulnerabilities. This process will vary depending on the nature of the vulnerability, but in many cases, fixing the vulnerability involves either updating code, applying a patch or updating to a newer version of the vulnerable application component. Alternatively, if a fix can’t be implemented, there should be a series of well-defined steps to prevent the vulnerability from being exploited. A good example for this would be updating the application’s configuration such that the conditions required for exploitation cannot be fulfilled.

Understanding Vulnerabilities

In the ever-changing digital era, understanding the intricacies of software supply chain vulnerabilities is key to robust cybersecurity. To do this, it is essential to be aware of the most recent insights into the landscape of software vulnerabilities and stay on top of the latest news regarding emerging trends.

Where vulnerabilities live

Vulnerabilities can be found in a number of places. Most common is in the source code written by internal or third party developers. In addition, open source packages, which are used in over 90% of enterprise applications, have become a prime location for potentially malicious code. Besides source code and binary files, vulnerabilities can also be found in the dependencies and configurations of applications and their operating environments.

Different types of vulnerabilities

While there is a wide variety of security vulnerabilities that could potentially exist within an IT environment, most vulnerabilities fall into one of four categories:

  • Malicious code – Code that malicious parties insert into a codebase, such as malware, can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to systems or take control of applications.
  • Misconfigurations – Configuration mistakes like a cloud Identity and Access Management (IAM) rule that provides public access to sensitive data may lead to breaches.
  • Coding flaws – Coding mistakes or oversights, such as failure to perform input validation in order to detect application input designed to gain unauthorized access,  can lead to exploits.
  • Lack of encryption – Data that is not properly encrypted, either at rest or in transit over a network, is vulnerable to attack.

Within each of these categories, there are multiple forms in which a vulnerability may appear.

Common sources of vulnerabilities

The defects that cause software vulnerabilities can result from flaws in the way the software is designed, problems with the software’s source code, poor management of data or access control settings within the application or any other type of issue that attackers could potentially exploit.

Impact of vulnerabilities on software and systems

Software vulnerabilities such as software flaws, misconfigurations, weak passwords, and unpatched systems, are essentially open entry points that allow potential attackers to breach networks and internal systems. If neglected, these vulnerabilities can be exploited by malicious actors seeking unauthorized access to the organization’s systems to steal data or disrupt operations.


Vulnerability Management Process

Conventional cybersecurity methods are typically reactive, causing organizations to respond to incidents after they happen. In contrast, proactive vulnerability management is a philosophy that should be embedded within an organization’s culture to emphasize identifying, assessing, and addressing vulnerabilities before they’re exploited. This significantly limits the opportunity for potential attackers and minimizes the damage they could cause. At a high level, proactive vulnerability management requires continuous automated analysis of software within its production environment.

Steps involved in the vulnerability management process

Vulnerability management is a multilayered proposition, with six main pillars that organizations should consider when implementing a vulnerability management solution including:

  • Discovery and assessment
  • Prioritization and risk analysis
  • Mitigation
  • Continuous monitoring
  • Security education and awareness
  • Continuous strategic reassessment

Importance of regular vulnerability scanning and assessment

Comprehensive scanning of source code and binaries is essential for securing constantly evolving software artifacts. Given that attacks typically target binaries across the software supply chain, scanning these binaries is crucial to identify and fortify against vulnerabilities that might not be uncovered through source code analysis alone.

Prioritizing and remediation of identified vulnerabilities

By prioritizing the discovery, assessment, and mitigation of vulnerabilities, organizations can fortify their defenses, reduce risks, and demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding sensitive information. It also helps with proper resource allocation by indicating which vulnerabilities need an immediate response and which ones are unlikely to be exploited in their current configuration.

Covershot of DarkReading's State of Vulnerability Management Report

Taking a proactive approach to vulnerability management helps protect against potential threats.

Choosing the Right Vulnerability Management Solution

With so many tools available, it is important to evaluate each solution based on the needs and requirements of your particular organization.

Key features to consider in a vulnerability management tool

Effectively managing security vulnerabilities is a challenge because they can be difficult to detect and come in myriad shapes and sizes. Taking a proactive approach to preventing or limiting the damage vulnerabilities can cause requires tools and techniques to address those that might exist across the varying layers of an organization’s technology stack.

Full Visibility – Does the system have visibility into all the software artifacts and environmental variables where vulnerabilities may be lurking?

Continuous Scanning & Detection – Does the solution provide continuous scanning to discover newly introduced vulnerabilities as soon as they appear?

Accurate Prioritization – With so many possible vulnerabilities, is the system able to provide clear priorities based on the actual threat posed by the vulnerability?

Suggested Remediation – Once a vulnerability is detected, does the solution provide guidance regarding the best and fastest way to remove the threat?

Partnerships & Integrations – How does the proposed solution fit in with current software development and operating environments.

Getting clear answers to these key questions can help ensure that the vulnerability management solution you select is right for your organization.

Integration capabilities with existing IT infrastructure

Preventing or limiting the damage vulnerabilities can cause, requires tools and techniques to address those vulnerabilities across the various layers of an organization’s technology stack. To this end, it is important to understand the operating requirements and limitations of a vulnerability management solution. For example, will it work properly with on-prem servers as well as in the cloud? Likewise, how well will it integrate with the existing Integrated Development Environment as well as the proprietary and open source security tools currently deployed in your organization?

Scalability and flexibility of the solution

With the continued growth and dynamic nature of software, both DevOps and Security must be prepared to scale operations. This means more code and more developers in multiple locations and a lot more potential vulnerabilities to manage.

The solution should be able to scale, meaning that it should be easy to add more developers and locations, while maintaining centralized repositories and scanning open source packages automatically regardless in which location the developer is writing their code.

As more enterprises move their development operations to the cloud, flexibility becomes a key issue in terms of supporting on-prem, cloud and hybrid environments. Likewise having the flexibility to integrate with existing tools and infrastructure, as mentioned above, is important to look for in an enterprise vulnerability management solution.

Future Trends in Vulnerability Management

With the number of attacks increasing and becoming more sophisticated, vulnerability management solutions must evolve as well to meet new challenges.

Emerging technologies and their impact on vulnerability management

The emergence of cloud computing has had a profound impact on computing in general and software development in particular. Developing applications for the cloud uses container architecture which has its own built-in security challenges, introducing a whole new set of potential environmental vulnerabilities.

Likewise, different cloud vendors offer their own security solutions which may be available for their service but not on others. Vulnerability management solutions need to respond with cloud-native tools and integrations which detect, prevent and remediate vulnerabilities in the same manner regardless of which vendor is being used.

Automation and machine learning in vulnerability detection

AI and machine learning are having a “double effect” on vulnerability management both in terms of the specific challenges which AI/ML software development brings to DevSecOps teams and the potential that AI holds for improving and automating vulnerability management solutions.

In terms of MLOps, development of AI/ML applications requires a lot of code, large datasets and extensive use of open source packages. These all represent challenges for security professionals, especially in terms of scaling vulnerability management capabilities.

On the flip side, using AI models to detect and remediate vulnerabilities has the potential to automate the entire process to such an extent that threats and actual exploitation of vulnerabilities are discovered and remediated in the background on a continuous basis.

Predictions for the future of vulnerability management

No one can predict the future, but a number of trends are pretty clear that indicate the direction vulnerability management will be taking to combat threats in the coming years:

Trend Description
Proactive Approach Security values embedded within an organization’s culture to emphasize identifying, assessing, and addressing vulnerabilities before they’re exploited
Shift Left An approach to application security that emphasizes detecting and mitigating security problems as early as possible within the software development lifecycle
AI-based Threats New security challenges in detecting vulnerabilities in AI components, ensuring ML model security, as well as version control, rollback, and governance
Continuous Remediation The ability to constantly detect vulnerabilities and automatically assess the threat level and provide remediation and incident documentation
Continuous Compliance Taking Licensing and Compliance guidelines and making sure they are fulfilled and documented at every stage of the development lifecycle
Threat Intelligence Integration Vulnerability information sharing that integrates trusted sources regarding the latest vulnerabilities and integrating that information into detection, assessment and remediation operations
Integrated Cloud-Native Security Integration of cloud specific security tools to detect cloud related vulnerabilities in addition to existing vulnerability management solutions

Staying informed of these and other industry trends, should help security teams ensure that their vulnerability management solutions are positioned to thwart potential threats now and into the future.

The JFrog Software Supply Chain Platform

The JFrog platform is the universal software supply chain solution for DevOps, Security, and MLOps. With 50+ integrations, it can house your entire ecosystem of tools, providing automated, integrated, extendable, and secure software supply chain management. Continue to explore more topics using the Related Articles link below, or if you’re ready to give JFrog a try, then book a demo or start your free trial at your convenience.

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