From the beginning, these tools seemed amazingly useful and, considering the data they provide, amazingly hard to get results from. But once a network vulnerability map is available, how does an organization go about patching millions, thousands, or just dozens of computer systems, some of which are in production environments?
Getting results often requires a plan, spanning years in the future, where a vast majority of the network would not be vulnerable to known attacks -- a network map of green rather than red.
That achievement is indeed admirable, but is it the right way to go, and is the time spent on this process worth it?
I believe so. But not before other functions are performed: Integrating a patch-management system and updating the operating systems for machines across the board will provide more results more quickly in closing security holes.
Another aspect as to why patch management ought to be done first is that the landscape has changed. When vulnerability assessment systems were first introduced, vulnerabilities on the network were the most commonly used path of attack. Today, multiple attack vectors are commonplace -- email attachments, downloaded infected items from the Web, and social engineering via email and IM are all equal in threat level to network-based attacks. Updating the operating system will do more to help combat some of these widespread common threats than any network scanner will.
Following patch management, establishing or formalizing the process by which new computers are installed and connected to the network will prevent new vulnerabilities from being introduced and for the operating systems to be updated regularly.
And following a risk assessment, updating servers in vulnerable network locations and then starting automated vulnerability assessment on them first is more efficient for the overall security of the rest of the network as well. It can serve as a pilot project for choosing the right system for later and wider deployment.
Then starting the process of vulnerability assessment helps you to find vulnerabilities from applications and discover how your patch management system is working (and what machines are not being updated).
An automated process will help with one aspect nothing else will: discovering when new vulnerable machines are connected to your network so you can do something about it. Then it becomes a sort of incident alert auditing system for you to find infringements and to follow up on them.
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Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.