From Vulnerability Management to Continuous Threat Exposure Management
Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) is being heralded as the evolution of traditional vulnerability management (VM) programs by analysts. The need for CTEM is driven by the constantly changing threat landscape. The dynamic nature of this landscape is characterized by more than 50 new CVEs being logged every day and threat actors scanning for vulnerabilities just 15 mins after a new CVE is disclosed. In the context of today’s threat landscape and modern adversaries, many organizations are unaware of how large their external attack surface is and what vulnerable or misconfigured assets are exposed.
This blog post will explain the key differences between Continuous Threat Exposure Management and traditional vulnerability management, outlining why CISOs must shift from vulnerability management programs to CTEM to stay ahead of adversaries and improve their security posture.
Vulnerability Management vs. Continuous Threat Exposure Management: A Comparison
When comparing VM and CTEM, several key differences stand out:
- Scope: While VM concentrates on identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, CTEM focuses on understanding and managing the organization's overall threat exposure.
- Frequency: VM is generally periodic and reactive, whereas CTEM is continuous and proactive.
- Threat Intelligence: VM lacks a strong integration of threat intelligence, but CTEM leverages this for better threat contextualization and prioritization.
- Automation: Vulnerability Management usually involves manual intervention for remediation, while CTEM often includes automated response mechanisms.
Vulnerability Management typically focuses on monitoring for specific Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) and conducting scans on a predefined list of assets. This approach was suitable when organizations had a fairly static asset inventory and attack surface. However, today there are more devices and systems built in the cloud, rising numbers of workers connecting via remote technologies, and increasing IOT/OT deployments. The scope of VM programs is simply too small and can allow unmitigated threats to persist.
In comparison, CTEM provides a more comprehensive and proactive approach to threat detection. It goes beyond CVE vulnerabilities and extends its coverage to include various threats such as misconfigurations and exposed information. CTEM also expands the scope by including the complete external attack surface when searching for potential threats. The result is that CTEM provides a more comprehensive overview of the possible threats that an organization is exposed to.
Vulnerability management often relies on periodic testing, usually in the form of scheduled annual red teaming or penetration testing exercises. This approach was acceptable when changes within environments were sporadic, but as organizations have become more digitally enabled it has become impractical. New code, configurations, and updates are pushed into production faster than ever – in fact, IDC predicts that 70% of large organizations will deploy code to production daily basis. CTEM takes a more proactive and continuous approach to monitoring. It employs Continuous Autonomous Red Teaming, meaning ongoing tests are conducted to identify any changes in the security posture of assets as soon as configurations are modified. This real-time monitoring allows for immediate detection of any potential vulnerabilities or threats that may arise, enabling prompt responses and mitigation measures.
By understanding the methods employed by malicious actors, organizations can anticipate and mitigate potential threats more effectively. Utilizing the hacker's perspective can improve the methods for identifying weaknesses in digital systems. Additionally, threat intelligence aids in monitoring emerging trends and vulnerabilities, such as zero-day vulnerabilities, software supply chain attacks, and the exploitation of misconfigured systems.
The benefit of integrating threat intelligence is twofold; firstly it allows organizations to identify potential threats that would not have been found otherwise, and secondly, it allows threats to be prioritized more accurately. The result is that security teams can prioritize their efforts more effectively, focusing on the activities that matter most.
Vulnerability management often involves several manual steps during the lifecycle of the process. One of these steps is validation, in which many teams manually confirm that an alert generated by existing tooling is a genuine threat. As described above, this is acceptable when there is a small number of alerts but can quickly become overwhelming. Similarly, the process of prioritizing vulnerabilities can take a significant amount of time.
Lastly, remediation can be challenging. This involves not only triaging the alert to the correct team but also identifying the appropriate steps to mitigate threats. Furthermore, follow up testing to confirm the success of remediating activities often takes up even more time. The large amount of time taken on manual steps limits the absolute number of alerts that a team can process. CTEM programs aim to enhance automation, allowing security teams to remediate a higher volume of threats.
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Defining Continous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)
Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) is the ongoing monitoring and identifying of threats, vulnerabilities, and risks in real-time. CTEM doesn't simply focus on vulnerabilities; it assesses real-time threats, exposed assets, and existing control measures. This enables organizations to identify and respond to threats quickly, reducing the risk of a successful attack. Here are the primary components of CTEM:
- Continuous Monitoring: Real-time assessment of assets and threats, rather than periodical scans
- Threat Intelligence Integration: Incorporation of up-to-date threat intelligence for better contextualization and prioritization
- Exposure Analysis: Evaluation of exposed assets, potential threat actors, and attack vectors
- Risk-Based Prioritization: Prioritizing remediation based on real-time risk assessments
- Automated Response: Automation of responses to identified threats and vulnerabilities
Why CTEM Outperforms Traditional Vulnerability Management
It is clear that there are a number of technical benefits offered by CTEM. These translate into business benefits in a number of ways:
- Minimizing the number of security incidents that organizations face
- Creating safe environments in a constantly changing threat landscape
- Identifying the weak points in your security posture that an attacker could exploit
- Reducing the risk created by remote working technologies
- Maintaining the security of critical business functions that rely on 3rd party services or platforms
Garner predicts that by 2026, organizations that prioritize their security investments based on a continuous exposure management program will be three times less likely to suffer from a breach. To discover the top five CTEM trends for 2023 and beyond, read more below:
Your business choice: Maturing to CTEM
While CTEM holds immense potential, the transition from Vulnerability Management to CTEM should be a well-thought-out process. An organization's readiness for CTEM depends on its cybersecurity maturity, the complexity of its assets, and its ability to manage continuous processes.
If your organization is still in the early stages of Vulnerability Management, focusing on enhancing those capabilities may be more beneficial. However, as your organization matures and the complexity of your assets and threats grows, transitioning to CTEM can deliver significant benefits. Hadrian helps your organization achieve that by automating the entire external exposure management lifecycle, from initial asset discovery to risk remediation.
Download this e-book to learn more about the Gartner recommended strategy (CTEM) for managing cyber risk.