What Is the Difference Between Vulnerability Assessment and Vulnerability Management?

Virtually every organization has sensitive and valuable assets to protect. Yet not every organization has a comprehensive and fully thought-out strategy for the protection of those assets.
That’s a pretty troubling disconnect — especially if you are one of the organizations in the latter bucket.

In the cybersecurity realm, vulnerability management strategies are foundational to a strong defense. Typically, vulnerability management strategies take a holistic, ongoing approach to managing security holes within an organization’s systems, networks, applications, etc. These vulnerabilities are then identified, assessed, and remediated as quickly as possible.

To help you better understand the gravity of this issue, let’s take a closer look at the fundamentals of vulnerability management, and how it differs from another related concept: Vulnerability assessments.

Vulnerability Assessment vs. Vulnerability Management

To better illuminate this difference, let’s consider it through the lens of a physical property owner. If you own a valuable building, you probably take a number of steps to protect it: You maintain it, you insure it and you make sure that the doors and windows and locked and the alarms are activated. All of these steps combined could be referred to as managing the risk to the property and its contents.

Now, what if you hired someone to just test your alarms and exterior defenses and report back? Another word for that would be an assessment. The management of your property’s security is an ongoing process composed of everything relevant to the process, while your assessment is a one-time event with specific goals or benchmarks.

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are approached in a similar fashion. Vulnerability management is the overarching and ongoing strategy, while vulnerability assessments are a specific tool used within that broader management strategy.

How Scans Work

One of the most common mechanisms for conducting such an assessment is through scanning. Vulnerability scans include:

  • Network-based scans
  • Host-based scans
  • Wireless scans
  • Database scans
  • Application scans

These scans may be internal, external, or environmental in nature and may be manual or automated. Scans can quickly identify issues that need to be fixed. Scanning is often supplemented by penetration testing, both automated and manual.

Now that we’ve covered the differences between these two approaches, let’s look at some related concepts and how they differ.

Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing

Vulnerability assessments share many of the same characteristics as penetration tests, as both allow organizations to rigorously probe their defenses. Pen tests may be manual or automated. In manual scenarios, human testers play the role of “ethical hackers” and use their expertise to try and breach an organization’s defenses and exfiltrate critical assets. In doing so, penetration testers assume the perspective of attackers and help defenders understand not only if vulnerabilities exist, but also how they may be exploited and the cost of such an event.

Vulnerability Management vs. Risk Management

While vulnerability management is an ongoing process of managing security gaps, risk management takes a broader view of anything that could pose a threat to an organization. A sound risk management strategy allows risks to be identified, analyzed, and mitigated effectively. This approach helps organizations understand not only the vulnerabilities that exist but the scale of the damage that could occur should they be exploited. A risk and vulnerability assessment, conducted under the umbrella of risk management, can provide an especially broad perspective on the strength of an organizational security posture.

Threat Assessment vs. Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments attempt to identify the gaps of weaknesses that undermine an organization’s security. Threat assessments study the entities and tactics and techniques used to threaten an organization. Risk, meanwhile, is a calculated assessment of both threats and vulnerabilities.

How XM Cyber Provides the Critical Context Needed for Effective Risk-Based Vulnerability Management

Many of the tools discussed above offer one piece of the puzzle. Yet to fully protect an organization’s crown jewel assets you must have a clear understanding of the interlocking nature of threats, vulnerabilities, and risk.

XM Cyber’s attack path management platform is designed to give you the deepest possible visibility into vulnerabilities and threats. In addition to a deep asset vulnerability assessment, it also provides the critical context needed to understand organizational risk. Our technology shows you not only if vulnerabilities exist, but how threat actors are most likely to exploit them and the damage that could be caused. We help you manage risk by focusing on the 1-percent of exposures that are exploitable.

More About XM Cyber

XM Cyber is the global leader in attack path management. XM Cyber brings a new approach that uses the attacker’s perspective to find and remediate critical attack paths across on-premises and multi-cloud networks. The XM Cyber platform enables companies to rapidly respond to cyber risks affecting their business-sensitive systems by continuously finding new exposures, including exploitable vulnerabilities and credentials, misconfigurations, and user activities. XM Cyber constantly simulates and prioritizes attack paths putting mission-critical systems at risk, providing context-sensitive remediation options.

For more information about XM Cyber technology, visit this link.


Stop chasing vulnerabilities,
Start unraveling your exposures

See what attackers see, so you can stop them from doing what attackers do.