As the cloud becomes a standard part of every enterprise, managing security has become more complex. This is especially true in public and hybrid cloud environments, where determining which aspects of security are the responsibility of the cloud services provider and which are an internal responsibility is often a challenge.

Vulnerability management is one of the areas of security presenting challenges, especially for those companies using on-premises, private clouds. Companies that opt for a public cloud do have a slightly easier time with the vulnerability management aspect of cloud security, as cloud services providers generally handle the identification and patching of critical infrastructure. That being said, even if you use the public cloud, vulnerability management is still a concern, as you need to secure hosts. Surveys indicate that nearly a quarter of companies actually have unsecured vulnerabilities in the form of unpatched hosts in their cloud, putting them at significant risk for a data breach.

There’s no question that vulnerability management matters. Hackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities they can exploit. Without proper vigilance and patching, these exploits could prove devastating to your company. With the proliferation of the cloud, though, the attack surface has changed, meaning that approaches to vulnerability management have changed as well.

Changing Endpoints, Changing Thinking

Compared to the security landscape of today, enterprise security of even just a few years ago seems remarkably simple. In the past, hackers were focused primarily on servers. Getting in to a server meant gaining access to the most important data within the company, and to keep criminals out, IT security was focused primarily on defending their network against intruders using firewalls, intrusion detection, etc.

Although server protection is still important, the cloud has created a much bigger attack surface, and more potential points of entry for hackers. With employees using mobile devices and laptops to connect to the cloud from virtually anywhere, the idea of accessing a single server to attack a company isn’t the biggest concern anymore. And protecting endpoints, which have always been a means of entry for hackers, is no longer about keeping desktop computers secure and up-to-date. Now, cloud security solutions must address vulnerabilities in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even connected equipment like printers and copiers. In short, vulnerabilities are no longer limited to servers, but extend to networks, applications, and the users themselves – and efforts to manage vulnerabilities must extend to those factors as well.

The Foundations of Vulnerability Management

So, what does effective vulnerability management look like today?

Modern vulnerability management requires complete visibility across the entire security ecosystem. This means that security must be able to see everything happening within the company infrastructure, and able to monitor the vulnerabilities in all containers, clouds, and applications on the network.

Increased automation is also important. Vulnerability management is most effective when it’s approached strategically, and when IT teams spend less time manually applying patches and update and more time identifying and understanding threats and developing a strategic approach to managing them. Automated workflows that prioritize fixing vulnerabilities and thinking like a hacker – that is, looking at vulnerabilities from the perspective of a hacker and what is most likely to be attacked first – allows companies to stay ahead of threats and avoid falling victim.

Understanding individual vulnerabilities and the threats the represent is actually a cornerstone of effective cloud security and vulnerability management. Vulnerability management isn’t simply about patching holes as they pop up. In fact, some security experts note that not having a patch doesn’t automatically mean that your company is in danger of being breached. An effective response involves looking at individual vulnerabilities to assess the actual risk, and which aspects of the company are actually at risk and how. By approaching the vulnerability in this way, you develop a more effective response plan that mitigates all of the risk.

Keep in mind, for instance, that vulnerabilities aren’t always solved by patching, and it may be a matter of configuration causing the vulnerability. Effective vulnerability management in the cloud environment requires analyzing the entire picture, prioritizing, and planning. With this approach, you can effectively reduce the risk to your cloud environment and avoid wasting time and resources on ineffective or unnecessary actions and rather devote time to those actions that will keep your data and networks secure.

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