Tech Insight: The Five Stages Of Vulnerability Management

Like grief, vulnerability management can be a heart-wrenching and complex challenge. Here's a road map that will help you get from denial to acceptance
1. Denial. "The scan results are inaccurate -- there are a bunch of false-positives in your scan results!"

Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual (or support team). To move beyond this stage, you must keep support teams focused on positive actions. In other words, park the items they feel are false and focus on the items they agree are true positives. This will keep attention on what needs to be done, instead of feeding their belief that if they somehow discredit the results, they won't have to respond.

2. Anger. "Who is to blame? Did you raise a change request to do those scans?"

Many support units will deflect ownership of the findings by challenging your right to scan their devices on their networks. To get through this stage, it's imperative you have sufficient and demonstrable preauthorization to scan these networks. That could be confirmed via the change control process, but it typically involves negotiations on scan times, with senior-level authorization to conduct the scans on a predefined and ongoing basis.

3. Bargaining. "What's the real risk? Can you please delay your scans until next quarter because we're so busy? I don't own this! Can I have a security deviation that will lower my risk scores?"

The third stage involves the hope that the individual (or support team) can somehow postpone, deflect, or delay the inevitable. Ownership of the risk and accountability for remediation are the themes in this stage. To move through this stage, you must determine where the buck stops and work this from the top down. Identification of dependencies and defining responsibility for removing the barriers are critical success factors.

4. Depression "I keep patching, but new vulnerabilities are killing me. I can't seem to make any progress -- damn [insert name of software program here]!"

During the fourth stage, the support team begins to understand the certainty of the emergence of new vulnerabilities -- and how big the problem is. At this stage, the support unit will require your support. They'll want to know their efforts have yielded fruit. One useful tactic is to ensure your scanning and reporting process also captures risk avoidance and risk score reductions as key metrics. In other words, if you can quantify the effects of the good remediation efforts, then support teams can begin to accept the fact that success requires more than a one-time effort -- and that sustainable processes must be implemented to keep pace.

5. Acceptance. "It's going to be OK. I can't fight it, so I may as well prepare for it."

With this final stage comes peace and understanding -- and in the case of vulnerability management, a better focus on risk. Once the support teams realize this is an ongoing effort -- and that the scan results actually help to proactively identify areas of risk -- they are usually ready to implement meaningful process changes, and are more able to help protect the assets under their control.

A final note: Regression through the stages is normal, but as long as you are armed with the knowledge to understand the motivations behind the reactions, you will be equipped to help your support teams get through them. If possible, engage the responsible units at the beginning of the assessment process to help minimize the negative responses during all of these stages -- and deliver positive results.

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