What Are the Key Elements of a Strong Vulnerability Report?
By Ray Espinoza, CISO & VP at Inspectiv
All vulnerabilities are not created equal, but they all share one common trait: Without the proper response, they can be an open door for a cybercriminal to enter and wreak havoc.
Because organizations only have so much time, resources, and staff to help secure their enterprise, they need to determine the best way to manage and stay ahead of an ever-evolving threat landscape—without over-extending their staff or budget.
But how can an organization work through this decision?
One of the most effective methods is to adopt a robust vulnerability management process—one that helps organizations identify, prioritize, categorize, and proactively prevent cybercriminals from exploiting vulnerabilities. The key output of this vulnerability management process is a vulnerability report. So what exactly is a vulnerability report, and what separates a strong one from the rest?
What Is a Vulnerability Report?
A vulnerability report is the most important piece of the vulnerability assessment process. This report is designed to help companies understand what potential vulnerabilities exist within their environment, what risks those weak spots present, and how to address these issues.
Typically, vulnerability reports include a few important components:
Executive summary: This is a quick, hard-hitting breakdown of the report and its main findings. It should provide a broad outlook and fit the technical proficiency of all executive stakeholders.
Overview: This section will provide more technical details about the report and will lay out a high-level summary of findings.
Vulnerability details: This part of the report will dig into the specifics of a company’s vulnerabilities. Well-crafted reports will include a severity rating and associated CVE, if applicable, a detailed description of each vulnerability, and a step-by-step breakdown explaining how the research team found the vulnerability.
Findings and impacts: This portion of the report will paint a full picture of all vulnerability findings as well as their severity and how they could impact the company.
Recommended actions: This section makes recommendations to help the company fix vulnerabilities and improve security.
What’s a Vulnerability Report’s Role in the Larger Vulnerability Management Process?
A clear and concise vulnerability report will help an organization's security team remediate and mitigate vulnerabilities and harden their attack surface.
To fit into a proactive vulnerability management process, a vulnerability assessment needs to help the organization fortify its cybersecurity soft spots. A vulnerability report should lay out the process researchers used to uncover vulnerabilities, identify findings, and propose recommendations.
What Are the 5 Key Elements That Make a Strong Vulnerability Report?
Not all vulnerability reports will deliver the same level of value to a company. Here are a few elements that strong vulnerability reports include:
1. A Clear Understanding of the Audience
Vulnerability reports aren’t useful if teams that are responsible for remediation can’t understand them or are spending too much time decoding unfamiliar language. That’s why the best vulnerability reports are customized for the reader. Rather than assuming the audience holds a set level of technical acumen, excellent reports deliver information in an easily digestible form and include technical information only where it’s needed. The best reports will also break down recommendations in a clear way that’s easy to follow.
2. A Thorough Assessment Approach
A strong vulnerability report will be thorough and actionable. Reports should answer these important questions:
How are assets being tested?
How actionable are the vulnerabilities found to remediate?
How can a company reproduce the vulnerability?
If remediation is not possible in the near term, how can a company best mitigate some of the risk to minimize impact?
Beyond answering these questions, the best reports will deliver information in a concise way without skipping over important background information on vulnerabilities.
3. Highlights Describing the Vulnerability’s Impact
A strong vulnerability report will be crafted with one clear intention: to drive change. To inspire appropriate action, it needs to detail vulnerabilities and associated risk. Also, because reports often cover new vulnerabilities or threats that remediation teams may only have a basic understanding of, the final report should break down the following:
What the vulnerability is
How it was discovered
What its full impact could be in terms of risk
4. Recommended Actions
The most valuable reports don’t just identify a vulnerability and leave the company’s security team to repair it on their own. Instead, they will list clear steps to help the security team accomplish a few key things:
Identify the vulnerability
Validate that the vulnerability has been resolved
5. A Tailored Perspective
To get the most out of any vulnerability management program, it’s important to partner with a vulnerability management provider that’s willing to get to know the business, its goals, and its values. This type of intimate partnership ensures that vulnerability reports account for the company’s unique characteristics. Here are a few ways to identify a vulnerability management partner that delivers best-in-class reports and security:
Workflow-based assessments: Work with a partner that goes beyond automated vulnerability scans to get ahead of the next big potential issue. By partnering with a team that uses workflow-based vulnerability assessment rather than simple automated tooling, the organization can identify advanced, evolving, and sophisticated threats.
Ongoing assessments: Cybercriminals don’t stop after one try. That’s why vulnerability assessments can’t be a one-and-done operation. To stay ahead of advanced attack tactics, it’s important to work with a team that conducts regular assessments.
End-to-end resolutions: To protect against resilient attackers, team up with a partner that treats vulnerability reports as living documents. That means they should follow through until the vulnerability is resolved.
Start Assembling a Proactive Cybersecurity Program
By receiving thorough and clear vulnerability reports, companies can develop a cybersecurity program that helps the organization not only avoid threats but also maintain compliance, build customer trust, and stay ahead of new, quickly evolving cyberattacks. However, not all vulnerability management partners will provide personalized, ongoing reports that feed into a proactive cybersecurity strategy.