Exposure management and vulnerability management both play pivotal roles in supporting an organization’s security posture. However, they serve different functions in cybersecurity, and many organizations are fuzzy about their distinctions. If you want to make sure that your approach is sound, being clear on the differences between the two is essential.
In this post, we’ll look at each of the concepts, unpacking their core functions, outcomes, and differences and why they matter to you.
Let’s begin with a deeper look at exposure management.
What is exposure management?
Exposure management is an organization’s process of identifying, assessing, and addressing security risks associated with digital assets. It hinges on determining what assets are vulnerable to attacks. Exposure management involves several key processes, including:
- Asset discovery: Using asset discovery tools, an organization identifies and inventories all externally facing assets.
- Risk assessment: The inventory is analyzed to outline how each asset is exposed, leading to a comprehensive understanding of how exposures can be exploited.
- Prioritization: Potential risks associated with digital assets are identified and prioritized for mitigation through protective measures.
- Remediation: IT and security teams take action with compensating controls on their prioritized list of vulnerable assets.
The objective of exposure management is to reduce an organization’s attack surface and limit an adversary’s opportunity for attack by hardening the security posture of digital assets. Implementing exposure management is a proactive approach to cybersecurity, as it makes an attacker’s task more difficult before they have even begun.
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What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management is a tool that has been used by security teams to address Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) since the turn of the millennium. It is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing operating system (OS) and software cyber vulnerabilities across an organization’s endpoints.
Vulnerability management involves a cycle of four main stages:
- Assess assets: Manually define the assets to be assessed for vulnerabilities.
- Organize findings: Use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to get a better understanding of the risk associated with vulnerabilities.
- Act: For each asset, decide whether to accept the risk, mitigate the vulnerability (by making it hard for an attacker to exploit), or remediate the vulnerability (by patching or upgrading the asset).
- Reassess: Start the process over again, usually on a fixed schedule, to find new vulnerabilities in your environment.
Though it’s critical, vulnerability management focuses narrowly on addressing risk associated with vulnerable OSs and software. For IT and security teams, crucial questions are left unanswered: Can this vulnerability be exploited? What other critical assets could be compromised if this vulnerability is exploited?
Despite its usefulness over the last 20+ years, vulnerability management hasn’t evolved much. Exposure management picks up where vulnerability management leaves off, serving as the next frontier for organizations to more effectively reduce risk.
Differences between exposure management and vulnerability management
Though exposure management and vulnerability management are both proactive in nature and critical to your organization’s cybersecurity posture, they address different use cases.
Exposure management primarily focuses on reducing an organization’s attack surface by managing what is exposed and accessible to attackers. Vulnerability management focuses on system weaknesses — whether they’re externally facing or otherwise — and seeks to address those weaknesses. Exposure management includes a broader set of proactive security capabilities and aims to centralize them into a single offering.
Actions in exposure management are often taken as soon as a high-risk exposure is detected. For example, a security team might close unnecessary ports or modify access control policies. Vulnerability management can be a longer process, involving deeper analysis of the vulnerability along with patching and updating of systems.
Exposure management encompasses everything that may be visible and accessible to potential attackers. Vulnerability management digs deeper, looking at weaknesses within an organization’s systems, configurations, and software. In this regard, the scope of vulnerability management is much broader.
Methods and tools
Exposure management leverages environment scanning tools, intrusion detection systems (IDSs), and security information and event management (SIEM) tools for continuous monitoring. Vulnerability management typically leverages tools like vulnerability scanners to help with weakness identification and prioritization.
Although exposure management and vulnerability management are distinct in function, they serve complementary roles, working together to contribute to a robust cybersecurity defense. Exposure management reduces the area of attack and vulnerability management hardens the security of an organization’s system components.
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The criticality of exposure management and vulnerability management within your organization’s cybersecurity strategy is clear. While vulnerability management programs have sufficed against threats in the past the landscape has changed. Leveraging vulnerability management as part of a broader exposure management program allows organizations to effectively and proactively manage risk.
The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform provides a comprehensive solution to enterprises looking for both exposure management and vulnerability management. To effectively and proactively manage risk, enterprises look to CrowdStrike Falcon® Exposure Management. Falcon Exposure Management delivers complete visibility into internal and external assets, AI-native vulnerability prioritization, and tightly integrated response actions.