February 14, 2011, 5:05 PM — DON'T shortchange remediation. Surprisingly, organizations will perform vulnerability scans, or hire someone to conduct a scan, get a report and then not follow through. They may cherry-pick one or two critical items and neglect the rest. The result is that the organization has spent time and money without doing much for its security.
"Some organizations stop at detection as an end point," says Chenxi Wang, a principal Forrester analyst. "That tells you where you are, but doesn't do much for your risk posture."
Also read the companion article Vulnerability management keeps getting sexier
Vulnerability and configuration management has to be remediated within a well-defined change-control process, supported by your vulnerability management tool and tied in to your control mechanisms, such as your ticketing system. The tool should support the process not only through vulnerability and error detection, but also through risk assessment based on the severity of the threat and the value of the vulnerable system. The process is not complete and the ticket can't be closed until a re-scan is conducted to verify that the remediation has taken effect (that is, the patch has been successfully applied or the configuration error corrected).
"Some organizations are very proactive, some are reactive," says Shaheen Abdul Jabbar, a security consultant. "I've seen security personnel perform scans, let the IT department know, but not go back and check if they were remediated until the next audit cycle."
DO use scanning services. If you are subject to regulations that require periodic third-party scanning, you don't have a choice anyway. In that case, don't limit yourself to meeting the minimum regulatory requirements. Follow through with your remediation process--good auditors will insist on it.
Regardless of regulatory obligations, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and managed services are viable options for vulnerability management. Several of the top vendors are heavily or even exclusively focused on services, allowing them to serve as alternatives or supplements to in-house scanning. SaaS offerings, by their nature, are focused on public-facing systems; for more comprehensive scanning, service providers will put black box appliances on customer networks and report the results.
Some organizations have been leery of allowing all that data the scans collect to be shared outside the organization. Make sure you are satisfied that the data is protected by strong encryption with solid key management and that only your authorized personnel--and no vendor employees--has access to that data.