Vulnerability Management: Addressing Your Weaknesses Before They Can Be Exploited

Vulnerability Management: Addressing Your Weaknesses Before They Can Be Exploited

This article originally appeared on the ISACA blog

As businesses continue to extend their digital footprints to support remote workers and deliver the products and services customers demand, the risk of a breach grows exponentially. New software deployments often create numerous yet unseen vulnerabilities, and while most of those vulnerabilities present minimal risk, others provide a pathway for criminals, hackers, or activists to exploit an organization’s data. 

“Vulnerability management is a proactive approach to security that removes vulnerabilities and mitigates risk, forcing attackers to find a weaker organization to prey on.”

According to the National Vulnerability Database, software vulnerabilities continue to grow at an alarming rate. For example, in 2021, there were over 20,000 vulnerabilities, which is the highest level recorded in the last 20 years. With vulnerabilities at a record high, how can your organization keep pace with innovation while also improving its approach to vulnerability management?

A Proactive Approach to Removing Vulnerabilities

Preventing an attack requires a willingness to focus on your organization’s vulnerabilities to remediate them before others can exploit them. Vulnerability management involves identifying, categorizing, prioritizing, and resolving vulnerabilities. As organizations engage in a never ending cycle of software deployments, vulnerability management is an ongoing process to keep up with new deployments and updates to existing software. Simply put, you cannot secure your organization without developing a detailed understanding of your vulnerabilities and responding to them accordingly.

Four Common Vulnerabilities to Address to Reduce Your Risk

While vulnerabilities come in many forms, some are more common and present a relatively easy path for attackers to follow. To address common vulnerabilities and strengthen your security posture, here are four critical areas to focus your attention.

1. Patch management

Identifying, acquiring, and deploying patches is critical to securing your organization. Applying a patch is often the only path to remediate a weakness. The stream of patches issued by software providers is one of the primary reasons vulnerability management is ongoing. Make sure patch management is a top priority with clear ownership of the task and timelines for deployment.

2. Default hardware and software configurations

Manufacturers configure their hardware and software to work immediately — but that ease of use comes with a price. For example, failing to change default passwords inserts a vulnerability for attackers to exploit. Revisit software and hardware configuration to ensure default configurations no longer apply.

3. Use of unauthorized software.

Given the exponential growth in remote employees, allowing end users to install unapproved software can create a gateway into your organization, especially if they fail to install patches. Revisit your company’s ability to block the installation of unapproved software, this includes educating employees not to install software without approval.

4. Excessive or unmanaged admin privileges.

As employees change jobs, they often accumulate admin privileges that exceed their needs. Providing too many employees with admin privileges defeats the purpose of creating such accounts. Furthermore, when an employee leaves the company, failing to remove their admin access provides a powerful path for bad actors to exploit. Develop and maintain a database of employees with admin privileges and make sure those employees need that level of authority in their current role. Additionally, make sure there’s an identity and access management process to revalidate or remove admin privileges when an employee changes jobs or leaves the company.

The InfoSec Survival Guide: Achieving Continuous Compliance

Breaches happen when attackers find and exploit vulnerabilities. While embracing digitization is critical to competing in today’s marketplace, the resulting vulnerabilities can significantly increase the likelihood of an attack. Compliance management software will streamline your vulnerability management program and bring your top risks to light more quickly. Your organization can then focus on the associated risks, the controls to mitigate them, and action steps to remediate them. Vulnerability management is a proactive approach to security that removes vulnerabilities and mitigates risk, forcing attackers to find a weaker organization to prey on.


Molly Mullinger was a Manager of Customer Experience at AuditBoard. Molly joined AuditBoard from EY, where she provided consulting services over regulatory compliance, including SOX compliance, technical accounting matters, and software implementations. Connect with Molly on LinkedIn.


Shehan Jayakody, CPA, is a Senior Manager of Product Solutions at AuditBoard, where he works as a CrossComply and RiskOversight product specialist. An Ernst & Young alum, Shehan has over seven years of audit and compliance experience. Connect with Shehan on LinkedIn.