Ok, we need to have a chat about vulnerability remediation.
You’ve just had the experts in to complete a vulnerability scan or penetration test. Once again, they’ve produced a detailed report containing lists of vulnerabilities that need remediating across your network.
But this isn’t news to you.
You recognise most of the vulnerabilities they have identified. They keep cropping up in every report.
We get it – remediating all these vulnerabilities is difficult and time consuming. Patching takes time. Your IT team is already busy with a backlog of BAU tasks. But you’ve been kicking this can down the road for far too long. You know the day is coming when a cyber-criminal will exploit one of these vulnerabilities and compromise your systems.
You have a choice. Do nothing and hope for the best. Or you can finally remediate your ever-expanding list of vulnerabilities.
The choice is yours.
In this article, we explore the importance of cyber remediation in a timely manner. When it comes to cyber risk remediation, fixing vulnerabilities is often the lowest hanging fruit.
It’s no exaggeration to say that cyber security remediation gives you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to strengthening your cyber resilience.
Prioritising Vulnerability Remediation
1- Why is vulnerability remediation important?
2- What are the risks if you don’t promptly remediate vulnerabilities?
3- Case example: Delayed patching disrupts Australian trade
4- How quickly should I remediate vulnerabilities?
5- Taking 3 essential steps towards vulnerability remediation
6- Benefits of vulnerability remediation
7- Vulnerability remediation: A cost-effective way to boost cyber resilience
8- How Virtuelle Security can help
Why is vulnerability remediation important?
Whenever a vulnerability is identified in any of the systems in your environment, you have three potential courses of action:
1- Ideally, the system developer, such as the software vendor, would issue a patch quickly, allowing you to roll it out and fix the vulnerability.
2- Sometimes, system developers don’t develop a patch quickly. The development of the patch may take a considerable amount of time, or the developer may simply be negligent. Either way, in such cases you should implement compensating controls. These are other steps you can take to remediate the risk of the vulnerability. For example, you may opt to take the system offline to prevent an attacker exploiting it.
3- You can do nothing and accept the risk. Generally speaking, this is not a good idea, unless you are confident that an exploit of the vulnerability would not significantly harm your organisation.
Ultimately, it is up to your organisation to decide the best course of action whenever a vulnerability is identified. Just remember, the ‘do nothing’ option can be very risky. That’s why it is important to remediate vulnerabilities as quickly as possible.
What are the risks if I don’t promptly remediate vulnerabilities?
In fact, the report points out that system developers, such as software vendors, are often quick to develop patches after vulnerabilities are discovered, often within two weeks. Despite this, in many cases, organisations either neglect or delay the roll-out of these patches. In over 50 per cent of cases, vulnerabilities are exploited more than two weeks after a patch has been made available – which highlights the importance of patching promptly!
In one recent case, the ACSC observed that cyber criminals successfully exploited a vulnerability in a system, despite a patch being available to remediate that vulnerability for over 7 years!
Such neglect and delay highlight the long tail risks associated with unpatched systems.
Delayed patching disrupts Australian trade.
DP World is a multinational logistics company, with responsibility for running many of Australia’s container terminals. In November 2023, the firm suffered a significant cyber incident which disrupted approximately 40 per cent of Australia’s import and export capacity.
According to reports, a Russian cyber-crime group named LockBit had previously identified ways to exploit a security vulnerability in ‘Netscaler’. This is a widely used tool developed by leading American technology firm Citrix that allows companies to deploy applications online.
Whilst Citrix had already developed and released a patch to fix the security vulnerability in its ‘Netscaler’ product, it appears DP World had neglected to roll out the patch before LockBit was able to exploit it.
A failure to roll-out one patch on one system resulted in a major disruption to Australian trade. With cyber-crime groups actively hunting for unpatched systems, the DP World incident demonstrates why timely vulnerability remediation is so important!
How quickly should I remediate vulnerabilities?
In many cases, a system developer, such as a software vendor, will publicly disclose the discovery of a vulnerability in an internet-facing system at the same time as it issues a patch to fix that vulnerability. The discovery of vulnerabilities should not be publicly disclosed before a patch is made available, to avoid making cyber-criminals aware that the vulnerability exists.
In such cases, the ACSC advises organisations to roll-out patches within 48 hours if the vulnerability is assessed as critical. Even if the vulnerability in question is not deemed critical, patches should be rolled-out within 2 weeks.
Sometimes, news of a vulnerability becomes common knowledge before a patch is developed.
This can leave organisations dangerously exposed, as cyber-criminals will actively look for ways to exploit the vulnerability. In such cases, it may be necessary to implement compensating controls, such as taking systems offline, strengthening access controls, enforcing network separation, and close monitoring for anomalous activity until the patch is made available.
If your organisation lacks the technical skills to roll-out patches in a timely manner, it may be worth considering using the services of a reputable cyber security company that can help ensure timely patching.
Take 3 essential steps towards vulnerability remediation:
Step 1: Prioritise
Not all vulnerabilities represent an equal risk to your organisation. For example, whenever a penetration test is run in your environment, you should receive a list of identified vulnerabilities that is prioritised according to criticality.
It is important that vulnerabilities are assessed against the risk they pose to your systems or data. An IT security audit can help quantify the risk posed by a vulnerability in an IT asset that contains your most valuable data. This risk will be significantly higher than a vulnerability in an IT asset that does not contain important information, is rarely used, and is not connected to any of your other systems.
Prioritising vulnerabilities in this way allows you to focus on the most critical vulnerabilities first and ensure you are taking urgent steps to remediate them.
Step 2: Test
Once you have completed your cyber security audit and prioritised your vulnerabilities, it is important to run patches in a test environment, before rolling them out to your live production environment.
This is due to the fact that patches are making changes to the source code of the system being patched. Sometimes, patches can have unintended consequences. They may require systems be taken offline for a period of time. By initially testing the impact of a patch within a test environment, you can limit the risk of unforeseen consequences.
Step 3: Roll out
Once you have prioritised the assets that need patching, and you have tested the patches thoroughly, it is time to roll them out to your live production environment.
You may wish to consider rolling-out patches overnight, so that any unexpected downtime will have little impact on your operations.
Whilst critical patches should be rolled-out within 48 hours, it may worth considering scheduling a specific time each fortnight to roll-out batches of patches for non-critical vulnerabilities.
Either way, make sure you keep a close eye on your systems after a patch has been rolled-out to ensure there are no unforeseen problems. Ensure leaders in your organisation are made aware of patching activity, so they can let you know of any problems they may experience following the roll-out.
What are the benefits of vulnerability remediation?
There are numerous benefits associated with effective and timely vulnerability remediation, including:
Strengthened security: Vulnerabilities can leave your organisation exposed to a range of risks. By remediating them as quickly as possible, you reduce your exposure to those risks, resulting in a strengthened security posture.
Improved reputation: Customers, shareholders, as well as other stakeholders, all expect organisations to take security seriously. The costs of a major security breach can be astronomical, resulting in widespread harm. By demonstrating that your organisation has a mature vulnerability remediation strategy in place, others will have a greater level of confidence and trust in your organisation.
Regulatory compliance: The regulatory landscape is increasingly complex. A range of rules and standards, such as the Essential 8 Cyber Security standard, are in place for different organisations, across different sectors of the economy. With a mature vulnerability remediation strategy in place, you can demonstrate to regulators that you are following best practice when it comes to cyber security.
Vulnerability remediation: A cost-effective way to boost resilience.
They say prevention is often cheaper than a cure. When it comes to vulnerability remediation, it is the ultimate preventative strategy.
By identifying where security vulnerabilities exist in your organisation and taking proactive steps to fix them, you are limiting the opportunities for attackers to exploit those vulnerabilities and cause you harm. In the long-run, vulnerability remediation is far more cost-effective than dealing with the fallout of a major security incident.
A large-scale cyber-attack can result in damaged hardware, stolen data, disruption to business operations, costly incident response, reputational damage, lawsuits by disgruntled customers, as well as fines by regulators. The costs add up very quickly.
Weighed against these costs, a comprehensive vulnerability remediation strategy makes a great deal of business sense.
How can Virtuelle Group help?
In complex digital environments, where you have large numbers of assets, vulnerability remediation can be a significant challenge. It can be a race against the clock to make sure you identify and remediate vulnerabilities before attackers are able to exploit them.
This challenge is exacerbated if your IT team is already busy handling ongoing tasks, such as running your service desk.
That’s why many organisations turn to cyber security service provider, Virtuelle Security, for a helping hand.
Our highly trained IT and cyber security team can guide you in all aspects of vulnerability remediation. We work with your existing IT and security teams to augment their capabilities. This ensures you can tap into the resources and skills you require, precisely when you need them.
Contact us today for a FREE Cyber Security Strategy Consultation with Robert Kirtley, our Cyber Security Director, and learn how Virtuelle Group stands ready to help you remediate vulnerabilities effectively and promptly.