threat vulnerability management
December 7, 2023

How Automation Can Support Threat Vulnerability Management + Reduce the Attack Surface

Security & Compliance

Threat vulnerability management, and managing your attack surface, are critical in the battle against cyberattacks. At some point before a successful attack, the internal process to manage threats and prevent access to sensitive data failed. How could they have done things differently? Were they just managing too much, too often, without the resources they needed? 

We’ll make the case for automation as a strategy to reduce the attack surface as part of a threat vulnerability management program and explore specific ways that you can deploy automation within your organization. 

Table of Contents: 

What is Threat Vulnerability Management? 

Threat Vulnerability Management is the process of identifying, assessing, and remediating vulnerabilities in a company’s IT infrastructure to prevent successful cyberattacks. 

Threat Vulnerability Management can cover a wide range of tactics to improve the security posture of an organization — from staying compliant to the latest regulations about privacy and access to making sure that accounts only have the minimum level of access required for their job. A successful threat vulnerability management plan evolves to meet the type and sophistication of attacks; it will never be a “set and forget” process. 

What is the Attack Surface? 

The attack surface refers to the total number of attack or threat vectors, which are potential entry points for unauthorized entry into a system. This includes any software vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and even physical access points that can be exploited. 

The broader the attack surface, the higher chance there is that a malicious cyberattack will gain control of a system or access sensitive data. The size and complexity of an attack surface also depends on the size of an organization, the type of infrastructure and applications that they use, and how robust their threat vulnerability management plan is. 

Threat Vulnerability Management in 3 Steps 

The average cost of a data breach now exceeds USD $4 million so it’s important to plan to minimize risk. Let’s break down what a threat management process looks like today. Where do you start when you know you need to keep your data secure, your users protected, and your organization in regulatory compliance? 

Step 1: Identifying the Attack Surface 

This assessment process includes an inventory of every possible asset that an attacker could exploit. It includes servers, workstations, network devices, cloud resources, and any access point that can be reached by an external user. The attack surface is often broader than you might realize — are you accounting for every app, every tool that could connect to your network? This identification process is the first step in understanding the scope of the attack surface, and better understanding the overall risk. 

Step 2: Assessing Vulnerabilities 

Assessing vulnerabilities includes consideration of the attack vectors and the tasks associated with monitoring of your attack surface. Which users and accounts have access to data and sensitive information? Are you regularly scanning for malware and insider threats, and who is alerted when a threat appears? What can you do in the event of a server outage, or when the entire network goes down? All of these are elements of a strong threat vulnerability assessment. 

Step 3: Remediating, and Repeating 

As vulnerabilities appear, it’s time to update your approach. This includes patching, changing passwords, manual security reviews, and the ongoing implementation of policies that are specific to your industry and geographic region. This process repeats as new vulnerabilities are discovered, or existing vulnerabilities become exploited in new ways. You’ll also want to consider how to prioritize these vulnerabilities — not all threats carry the same level of risk and mitigation urgency.

Manual vs. Automated Threat Vulnerability Management 

Where does automation fit into threat vulnerability management? From automatically providing an inventory of all IT assets (like network devices, cloud resources, workstations, and servers) to prioritizing the mitigation of vulnerabilities based on risk level, there are many critical tasks where automation can help. 

Reduce Error 

Human error can take many forms — like manually scanning and identifying devices within a network (and missing one or two servers) or deploying a misconfiguration by mistake. Even the best-intentioned admin might grant a user access to the wrong account or provide too much access altogether. Setting up policies in code and automatically deploying them can greatly reduce human error and establish consistency across different environments and apps. Saving time + reducing errors helps the IT security team focus on the bigger picture, not just repetitive (yet critical) threat vulnerability management tasks. 

Standardize 

Implementing consistent security and compliance standards using Policy as Code is enhanced further when your policies are crafted by security experts. Organizations such as The Center for Internet Security (CIS) publish globally-accepted security standards which can be implemented as baselines for posture improvement. These baselines can exceed hundreds of pages and provide automation platforms with a rock-solid foundation upon which to streamline their work. 

Increase Visibility 

Platforms like Puppet can provide a real-time view of the attack surface, as well as offer recommendations when there is configuration drift that impacts compliance. Visibility into your current assets connected within a network, as well as whether they are performing as expected, can help you keep an eye on any changes and remediate quickly. In short, if there is a problem, you should know about it right away. 

Reduce Cost 

Automation can reduce the need for extra support and additional management tools — when common tasks are automatically deployed, you can worry less about the time and expense required for management. Streamlining these processes with a single platform like Puppet, which is versed in tasks like compliance automation and enforcement, is a great way to reduce the overall cost of threat vulnerability management. 

Increase Efficiency 

Automation can greatly reduce the time it takes to identify, assess, and remediate vulnerabilities — it’s working all the time, even when you’re not. Manual management, even for a simple task like patching, can eat away at operational efficiency. 

Let’s see how manual vs. automated threat vulnerability management stack up when compared: 

Feature

Manual Threat Vulnerability Management

Automated Threat Vulnerability Management

Visibility

Limited visibility

Real-time visibility into the attack surface

Efficiency

Time-consuming and inefficient 

Efficient and streamlined

Accuracy

Prone to human error 

Highly accurate

Cost

High cost due to manual work

Lower cost 

Scalability

Difficult to scale

Easily scalable to large environments

Automating Threat Vulnerability Management with Puppet 

There’s a reason 40,000+ organizations trust Puppet for IT automation — including automation that supports security posture and threat vulnerability management. 

Puppet can help you

  • Regularly scan for vulnerabilities 
  • Manage access, permissions, and roles 
  • Update and patch on your preferred schedule 
  • Prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk 
  • Enforce compliance policies 
  • Manage and inventory assets 

With Puppet, you can support the tasks you’re already doing to reduce the attack surface — simplified and strengthened through automation. It’s one way that you can stay ahead of changing security needs, even when your team is busy putting out other fires. 

See how easy it is to work with Puppet and start automating a task within your threat vulnerability management plan today. You can try Puppet Enterprise for free, with no time limit, today: 

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