Managing vulnerabilities in an ever-evolving technology landscape is a difficult task. Although vulnerabilities emerge regularly, not all vulnerabilities present the same level of risk. Traditional metrics such as the CVSS score or the number of vulnerabilities are insufficient for effective vulnerability management because they lack business context, priorities, and an understanding of attacker opportunities. Vulnerabilities represent only a small part of the attack surface that an attacker can exploit.
Initially, organizations used manual methods to address known security weaknesses, but as technology and cyber threats evolve, a more automated and comprehensive approach becomes necessary. However, legacy vulnerability management tools were designed primarily for compliance and modern tools still face challenges in priority and limited resources, especially in dynamic and agile cloud environments.
Modern vulnerability management integrates security tools such as scanners, threat intelligence, and remediation workflows to provide more efficient and effective solutions. However, the organization continues to face challenges such as:
- Growing list of vulnerabilities
- Inaccurate priority
- No business context
- Misalignment of priorities and resources between IT and security teams
- Lack of a unified risk coverage and view
Exposure is wider than typical CVE and can include more than just vulnerabilities. Exposure can result from a variety of factors, such as human error, improper security controls, and poorly designed and insecure architectures. Many security tools tend to focus on a particular type of exposure, such as a vulnerability, misconfiguration, or identity, and address each separately. However, this approach fails to take into account how attackers see networks and systems. Attackers don’t see individual exposures – instead, they take advantage toxic combination vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, overly permissive identities, and other security holes to move across systems and reach sensitive assets. This route is called a path of attack and this type of lateral movement can go undetected for weeks or months, allowing an attacker to cause significant and sustained damage while hiding within a network.
Modern exposure management programs involve aggregating multiple exposures onto attack charts to understand the relationship and context of risks to critical assets. This allows for targeted remediation that reduces risk in the most cost-effective way. To build a modern exposure management programorganizations should recognize the evolution of threat actors and their tactics, establish operational processes to ensure continuous improvement of their security posture, and implement a plan consisting of remediation planning, remediation review, risk mitigation, and mitigation verification.
At XM Cyber, we believe that only by combining multiple exposures together to an attack graph that visualizes all possible attack paths, we can understand the relationship and context of risks to critical assets. And by understanding context, we can accurately prioritize issues to focus on exposures that need improving where they meet choke points. This enables productive remediation that reduces risk in the most cost-effective way.
The three main pillars for building a modern exposure management program are:
- Understand exposure insights – continuously identify and monitor potential risks to critical assets, and identify any gaps in security controls or deviations from compliance standards.
- Analyze attack paths – create an attack graph view that visualizes all possible attack paths to critical assets.
- Prioritize improvement efforts – focus on the most critical issues and bottlenecks that require urgent attention to reduce risk exposure in a cost-effective manner.
By combining these three pillars, organizations can build a comprehensive and effective exposure management program that helps protect critical assets and reduce overall risk exposure. This enables productive remediation that reduces risk in the most cost-effective way. By continuously analyzing and monitoring exposures, organizations can build sustainable and measurable processes to manage risk over time.
Notes: This article was written and contributed by Michael A. Greenberg, Director of Product Marketing at XM Cyber.