Continuous Exposure Management vs. Vulnerability Management
What’s the Difference?

Cybersecurity is overflowing with acronyms, jargon, and buzzwords. It is not surprising – an industry as new, diverse, and fast-moving as cybersecurity fuels an evolving lexicon.

But in the process, terminology can become confusing or unclear. Managed Detection and Response (MDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR) are good examples of terms that, though similar, are not interchangeable and vary in definition and outcome. If we don’t understand and use terms the same way, how can we ever coordinate effective protection?

Continuous exposure management and vulnerability management are two prime examples. Both are essential counterparts of a layered program to reduce and mitigate total cyber risk. Both appear to be similar in marketing vernacular. But there are vast differences in approach, tech, and operationalization that make these two entirely unique aspects of cybersecurity. Let’s take a closer look.

Continuous Exposure Management: Think Like an Attacker
All modern organizations face risk – often more than they realize in today’s distributed and complex environments. Traditional cybersecurity efforts look for threats after they’ve broken through your security defenses. Stopping these threats relies on finding them and stopping them before they can cause damage.

But long before a risk ever becomes a threat, continuous exposure management takes an expansive view of your organization’s people, process, and technology landscape to understand its exploitability. As we explored in our previous blog, the focus is on proactively and continuously hunting down any weaknesses – across your distributed environment – that an attacker could leverage to access your critical assets.

Once a weakness is identified, continuous exposure management drills down and applies context to determine the attack path(s) that could be taken, and the impacts to assets and to the business if that weakness is exploited. It then shuts the door on risk, resolving the weakness and neutralizing associated attack path(s) before an attacker can exploit them – thereby preemptively hardening your organization’s defenses and reducing your attack surface against future attacks.  

Vulnerability Management: A Picture in Time
Similarly, vulnerabilities are weaknesses that exist in a system or an asset within your environment that leave a door open to an attacker. One key difference is that vulnerabilities are known issues, such as missing OS patches, software coding errors, or reported misconfigurations, that may already have been exploited in the wild.

Scanning your environment using the most current vulnerability data will flag identified vulnerabilities on the assets and systems in your environment. But scans are static pictures of your environment at single points in time – unlike the continuous aspect of exposure management.

Also, the scan results and the associated Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) risk scores are only data points. They lack vital context and offer no indication about whether a severe vulnerability found in your environment is something that needs to be acted upon immediately – unless it is a compliance obligation specific to your organization. Consider this example: a severe vulnerability is found to reside on an asset in your environment, but if that asset is not connected or accessible – it is not exploitable or a risk to your organization.

In some cases, an organization will rank the criticality of their assets to business operations or to compliance to prioritize action on the often-overwhelming volume of vulnerabilities returned in a scan. But even this effort does not generate the context of the attack paths to and from an asset, so the exploitability of a vulnerability remains a question.

The Whole Enchilada
Organizations need a solid cyber offense (continuous exposure management) and a good defense (vulnerability management) to have a fighting chance against cyber adversaries. Both are essential to a holistic security strategy for mitigating cyber risk.

Much of today’s cybersecurity efforts apply technology point solutions to address issues. But the breadth of continuous exposure management goes beyond the technology. In fact, the key to its effectiveness in delivering true business outcomes lies in its operationalization. By layering people, processes, and technology together, exposures are continuously and effectively identified, prioritized, and resolved – before they can be exploited.

You might be surprised to learn that continuous exposure management has a positive ROI. So, not only does it improve your resilience and make life easier, it also helps address costs for your business.

Reveald is a leader in the exposure management space. Contact us to learn how exposure management can reduce operational risk by as much as 85% in 3 months.