Continuous Vulnerability Management: Why Continuous is Crucial

Sam Reed

You know the feeling you get checking email after vacation?

Imagine that feeling after a month long vacation. But it repeats every month. And every missed email represents a potential business-threatening risk if not addressed.

Oh, and you were never actually on vacation.

Now imagine you choose to do this because, "that's the way it's been done."

One of the biggest advancements in vulnerability management over the last decade has been the transition from point-in-time to continuous scanning.

But we still encounter far too many organizations relying on ad-hoc or infrequent scanning.

In this article, we'll explain why this is harmful to both the clients of service providers, and service providers themselves.

A Brief History

Since its inception, vulnerability management was mainly driven by compliance.

This meant that most organizations that were doing vulnerability management were only scanning once per year in order to check compliance boxes. The process involved exporting long scan reports and manually tracking remediation efforts.

Gradually, scanning became more frequent with organizations adopting quarterly, or even monthly scans, as the new norm.

While this change in frequency provided a more current, albeit still reactive, view of risk the approach was still mainly compliance-driven and resulted in a massive backlog of vulnerabilities that organizations lacked the processes to handle.

A few years ago, guidelines started to focus on using data to drive more effective vulnerability management. Thus, the introduction of key performance indicators and service level agreements. Organizations began to track metrics like vulnerability detection rates, mean time to remediation, and exposure trends.

Standards then advanced to things like impact analysis, risk acceptance decisions, and remediation for vulnerabilities within 14-30 days.

This led to the adoption of continuous vulnerability management.

The change from ad-hoc to continuous scanning shifted vulnerability management from a reactive, compliance-driven to-do to a fundamental proactive risk management process.

What is Continuous Vulnerability Management?

Continuous simply means scanning on a regular cadence versus on an ad-hoc or infrequent basis.

Continuous doesn’t necessarily mean constant. Advanced solutions allow service providers control over when and how often they are scanning. 

However, we do recommend scanning on a daily basis. 

Roughly 68 new vulnerabilities are disclosed each day. Modern cloud-based scanners have little to no impact on network performance.

In 2023, there is no reason for any interval less frequent than daily.

If traditional vulnerability management is akin to routine doctor visits, then continuous vulnerability management is a smart fitness wearable that monitors your vitals on an ongoing basis and alerts you to critical health risks.

Otherwise, you hardly notice it’s there.

Why Continuous is Crucial

The main feature of continuous vulnerability rests in its name. The core benefit is hinted at in the last section. And the case for continuous will be solidified in this section.

CVEs: wave on wave

As mentioned in the last section, on average there are 68 new vulnerabilities disclosed each day. This equates to over 2,000 each month.

Continuous scanning reduces the exposure time and minimizes the window of opportunity for an attacker to exploit the vulnerabilities.

With this number of vulnerabilities, you can see why monthly scans are no longer an option.

Simply put, the longer an exploitable vulnerability exists in a network, the more likely it is that it will be exploited.

Monitor attack surface in real-time

In addition to CVEs, attackers will often exploit environments without touching a CVE. These vulnerabilities exist at the identity layer.

Examples include misconfigurations in Active Directory, weak authentication practices, and over-provisioned access.

A continuous vulnerability solution that discovers and contextualizes these vulnerabilities to their specific environment will allow you to see the most critical risks on your most critical assets at all times.

And yes, compliance too

Your organization's cybersecurity strategy should not be determined by compliance requirements alone. But, compliance does exist for a reason. And continuous vulnerability management satisfies a CIS Critical Security Control.

Success is Downstream of Security

If there is one takeaway, it's that service providers and their clients both win when security is the primary focus.

Continuous vulnerability management is one component of a larger long-term strategy centered around automated workflows. A continuous and automated approach helps better defend end clients and contributes to meaningful operational efficiencies for security teams.

A move to continuous vulnerability management is a move from checking the box, to genuine proactive cybersecurity.

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