What Is the Vulnerability Management Process and How Can You Use It?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how the vulnerability management process helps businesses stay ahead of rapidly evolving cyber threats.

[Featured Image] Colleagues working together to conduct the vulnerability management process and support company objectives.

Just as hidden cracks gradually compromise the structural soundness of a submarine, unattended vulnerabilities put an organization's security at risk, making it susceptible to cyberattacks. Any security flaw that affects data integrity, availability, and confidentiality stands as a vulnerability to an organization. Organizations contend with several vulnerabilities, from obsolete software to weak passwords—some familiar, some unknown.

Organizations often pursue vulnerability management as part of a robust, proactive defense strategy. This practice aims to identify potential weaknesses before they become cyber risks.

Read on to discover critical steps in a vulnerability management process, including its benefits, challenges, and best implementation techniques.

What does a vulnerability management process entail?

A standard vulnerability management process involves regularly scanning IT assets. Once you identify, you would then complete a risk evaluation and tackle each identified vulnerability in the order of severity level.

Given that novel threats may surface unexpectedly at any time, professionals and teams involved in the process approach vulnerability management as a continual process rather than a one-time event.

How are vulnerabilities scored?

Organizations, including governments, rate vulnerabilities through an open framework maintained by the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST), a US-based nonprofit. That framework is called the common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS), and it consists of three metric groups: base, temporal, and environmental, with the base metrics yielding a score between 0 and 10. Note that a temporal or environmental metric evaluation can modify the base score.

The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) issues CVSS assessments, including base scores that depict inherent traits of identified vulnerabilities. However, the NVD does not provide temporal scores indicative of metrics that may alter over time in response to external factors or environmental scores that convey a vulnerability's impact on an organization.

Nonetheless, the NVD offers a calculator (online) for CVSS versions v2 and v3.x, allowing organizations to incorporate their unique temporal and environmental score data. The following table represents CVSS v3.0 qualitative severity ratings, as outlined by the NVD.

Score rangeSeverity rating

The NVD ceased support for CVSS v2.0 in July 2022, but you can still find all previously available CVSS v2.0 data in the database. As of March 2024, CVSS is at version 4.0.

Is the vulnerability management process specific to IT firms? 

Any organization that could experience a cyberattack could also benefit from using the vulnerability management process. It allows you to pinpoint lapses in security. It helps organizations of all sizes across various industries prevent malicious actors from accessing systems through applications, cloud-based services, servers, and other potential points of entry. 

The vulnerability management process essentially offers value to any organization that owns or utilizes IT infrastructure.

Breakdown of steps in a vulnerability management process

While there may be variations in approach among firms, the essential steps in a vulnerability management process include the following.

1. Detection 

2. Ranking 

3. Rectification 

4. Revaluation

5. Reporting 

Explore each step in greater detail below.

1. Detection  

At the onset, a vulnerability assessment checks for vulnerabilities among IT assets. Due to the sheer scale of IT resources, security teams often automate this step using vulnerability scanner software. Vulnerability scanners typically perform regular network scans. Firms may also conduct sporadic penetration tests to catch any weak spots missed by regular scans.

2. Ranking

Each detected vulnerability gets a rank according to the risk it presents to an organization using the common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS). For a comprehensive risk analysis, you will take into account contextual factors such as the asset’s criticality and anticipated impact of an exploit.

3. Rectification

Prioritized vulnerabilities undergo one of the three treatments: remediation, mitigation, or acceptance. Remediation thoroughly addresses a vulnerability by implementing measures such as installing patches to fix software bugs. However, when an immediate fix or patch isn't available, security teams may try to mitigate the vulnerability's exploitability by isolating the vulnerable device. Acceptance entails refraining from addressing a vulnerability, particularly when it's deemed low risk on the CVSS severity scale.

4. Reevaluation

The rectification step eliminates or lowers the risk of vulnerabilities. However, as a precautionary step, security professionals conduct a fresh vulnerability assessment to verify the effectiveness of their remediation or mitigation endeavors. This test ensures that implemented measures have successfully addressed the identified vulnerabilities and have not inadvertently introduced any new security weaknesses.

5. Reporting

As a final step, security teams document each identified vulnerability and its resolution for reporting. Reporting allows for effective communication with business owners and facilitates organizations’ compliance with cybersecurity regulations.

Pros and cons of the vulnerability management process

One of the primary benefits of the vulnerability management process is your ability to identify areas where security needs additional work, which can help prevent costly breaches and cyberattacks in the future. However, as with most security measures, the vulnerability management process has strengths and weaknesses. Below is an overview of both.


The perks of implementing the vulnerability management process include:

  • Minimized downtime: Regular vulnerability scans effectively mitigate cyber threats, such as distributed denial-of-service, engineered to incapacitate websites, computer systems, or online services, reducing downtime.

  • Enhanced visibility: Centralized reporting through vulnerability management gives teams across departments real-time visibility into potential threats, improving cyber resilience.


The challenges to implementing the vulnerability management process are:

  • Hard to scale: The intricate and expansive nature of IT infrastructure within large corporations makes vulnerability management challenging to scale.

  • Resource limitations: Constraints in remediation resources can impede efforts to address vulnerabilities, stalling the vulnerability management process.

Tips for an Effective Vulnerability Management Program 

Experts in the security field agree that developing a vulnerability management program that drives continual action and improvements is essential. If you plan on incorporating vulnerability management into your organization’s security framework, the following guidelines can help you along the way.

Record regular and shadow assets.

An efficient asset inventory is vital for the success of any vulnerability management program. In addition to tracking mission-critical physical and virtual technologies, monitor shadow IT, which encompasses non-standard or unofficial cloud services, software, and hardware leveraged by employees. Doing so can help you gain visibility into all technology assets, including those outside the purview of your official IT channels.

Adjust scanning frequency.

Several factors, including the size and complexity of your organization's IT infrastructure, influence the optimal frequency for conducting vulnerability scans. If your infrastructure is small, a monthly scan may suffice. However, a daily scan may prove more advantageous if you rely on third-party software for regular operations.

Automate vulnerability analysis.

Automated vulnerability analysis can help you streamline remediation workflows, allowing for faster resolution. Ideally, your vulnerability assessment tools must be compatible with rapidly growing cloud and container assets. You may choose to upgrade or replace your assessment tools accordingly.

Getting started with Coursera

The vulnerability management process is a proactive defense against known and unforeseen cyber threats. It involves pinpointing, assessing, prioritizing, and strategically mitigating potential risks.

To delve deeper into the subject and lesrn common cyber threats, consider enrolling in the Assets, Threats, and Vulnerabilities course available on Coursera. With this beginner-friendly course, you'll become acquainted with enterprise security controls for mitigating risks. Another option, In the Trenches: Security Operations Center, offered by the EC-Council, will allow you to explore vulnerability management, intrusion prevention and detection software, and the cyberattack landscape.

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