Identity-Based Vulnerability Management: What It Is and Why It Is Important

Sam Reed

Last year, over 25,000 vulnerabilities were discovered and disclosed.

Why is that important?

As the number of vulnerabilities continues to increase, the harder it is for service providers to manage them using traditional vulnerability management methods.

This leaves end clients at risk and makes it difficult for service providers to scale their business.

In this article, we'll introduce a solution to these problems: identity-based vulnerability management.

We'll cover:

  • What is identity-based vulnerability management?
  • Identity-based vulnerability management vs. traditional vulnerability management
  • Key benefits of identity-based vulnerability management
  • Key takeaway

What Is Identity-Based Vulnerability Management?

Identity-based vulnerability management takes traditional vulnerability management a step further by relating the vulnerability information across an organization's entire asset and identity landscape.

What does that mean?

Identity-based vulnerability management correlates vulnerabilities with asset criticality and identity risks. This provides a detailed view of the most critical risks on an organization's most important assets. (No more SSL vulnerabilities rated as high!)

Let's use an analogy before I lose you.

Traditional vulnerability management is like a security guard periodically checking for risk. The guard writes up every problem, like broken locks and unsecured windows, without prioritizing them. It's up to you to figure out what to fix first.

(Related aside: The CVSS scoring system does not account for environment-specific factors. The vulnerabilities are ranked, but there's a big gap in prioritizing related to potential business impact.)

Identity-based vulnerability management is like a high-tech security monitoring system. It knows which systems and data are most critical, and which employees have access to sensitive areas. When a vulnerability is found, it checks employee badges and asset importance to measure the risk. Broken lock on the CEO's office door? Alarm goes off. Unsecured window in the mail room? Lower priority.

Identity-based vulnerability management understands the interconnectedness and importance of everything in the environment. It uses this knowledge to prioritize the biggest risks that could harm the business.

To keep the analogy going, it's a smart security system tailored to your company's unique environment.

Identity-based vulnerability management provides answers instead of clues to the question of what would happen if this user, asset, or group was compromised in a cyber attack.

Identity-Based Vulnerability Management vs. Traditional Vulnerability Management

Let's start by defining "vulnerabilities" before we compare identity-based vulnerability management and traditional vulnerability management.

In the past, vulnerability management has focused almost exclusively on Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs).

We define vulnerabilities as closer to the word's original definition. That is, the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked. From an attacker's perspective, this expands beyond CVEs.

Having said that, we have provided a chart below for further comparison of the two.

IBVM vs. Traditional Vulnerability Management

Key Benefits of Identity-Based Vulnerability Management

If you've made it this far, some of the benefits have likely become self-evident.

We'll highlight a few of the important ones below.

Automated asset discovery and attack surface mapping

By pulling in identity information and access relationships, critical assets can be automatically discovered and categorized based on characteristics like:

  • User group membership
  • Levels of access/entitlement
  • Connections to other high-risk assets

These identity insights allow asset risk profiles to be programmatically generated, saving security teams significant manual effort.

Expanded view of true risk

An identity-based view reveals vulnerabilities arising from excessive user permissions, misconfigurations, and other identity risks. These risks are not found by just scanning the network.

Contextualized view of true risk

Identifying vulnerabilities within the context of critical business assets and systems helps assess risks more accurately, rather than relying on CVSS scores.

Prioritized remediation based on business impact

The order of remediation is based on the vulnerabilities that pose the highest risk to important assets and systems.

Rather than just focusing on CVSS severity scores, vulnerabilities are ranked based on identity context like:

  • Would exploitation of this vulnerability allow access to extremely sensitive assets or data?
  • How much damage could be done if this vulnerability were leveraged for lateral movement?
  • What levels of privilege or access could be gained by exploiting this vulnerability?

This helps security teams focus on addressing the highest impact vulnerabilities first - reducing overall risk even with limited resources.

Vulnerability categorization by remediation strategy 

Grouping vulnerabilities by the type of remediation needed (patching, configuration change, etc.) allows for faster fixes.

Continuous monitoring across the identity landscape

Regular scanning and identity monitoring ensures new vulnerabilities are detected across evolving assets and identities. As assets and access patterns change, new vulnerabilities immediately surface. 

This allows business-critical vulnerabilities to be detected, analyzed, and addressed before attackers have a chance to exploit them.

Key Takeaway

Context matters.

Identity is the core element that connects users, assets, data, and risk.

Incorporating identity into vulnerability management provides a more comprehensive view of risk. It allows critical business assets to be identified based on their membership in key groups. It allows prioritization based on business impact instead of a theoretical risk score.

For MSPs and MSSPs, identity-based vulnerability management enables better visibility into client environments, more accurate risk ratings, and tailored remediation plans based on client business priorities. 

To learn more about how identity-based vulnerability management provides an attacker-centric approach to vulnerability management visit:

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