Hackers are tirelessly attempting to identify the most vulnerable component of an organization’s vast attack landscapes, with their ultimate goal being to gain access to valuable resources.

Unfortunately, due to compartmentalized and inadequate views of the attack surface, security teams must depend on just-in-time detection and response strategies in order to counteract an attacker’s movements.

What tools are better from the perspective of mitigating and managing risk within an organization’s networks and devices?

Many people mistakenly believe that a “threat” is synonymous with either a “risk” or a “vulnerability”. However, while related, each of these terms has its own distinct meaning.

But in cybersecurity, it’s important to differentiate between: threat, vulnerability, and risk.

  • Threat exploits a vulnerability and can damage or destroy an asset
  • Vulnerability refers to a weakness in your hardware, software, or procedures. (In other words, it’s a way hackers could easily find their way into your system.)
  • Risk refers to the potential for lost, damaged, or destroyed assets

We’re going to cover Continuous Threat Exposure Management and Vulnerability Risk Management; what’s better, different, and ultimately right for the organization to manage risk and vulnerabilities.

What is Continuous Cyber Exposure Management?

According to Gartner and our friend at Tenable, Continuous Cyber Exposure Management (CTEM) allows a business to better understand cyber risk and make informed decisions based on that risk. Exposure management has the bones of risk-based management but takes a wide-angled view of the entire attack surface.

A company’s attack surface is all of the areas where there is potential for an attack, now imagine a threat actor trying to figure out the combination like on a lock using vulnerabilities that exist in network hardware or software, operating systems, processes, and people in an organization until they find the answer.

CTEM applies technical and business context to provide proactive incident response efforts to support the attack surface.

  • Unified view of all assets and vulnerabilities
  • Reduce time spent for security experts to understand the attack surface
  • Eliminates blind spots
  • Anticipates the impacts of a cyber attack
  • Provides actionable insights

What is Vulnerability Risk Management?

Vulnerability risk management is a critical process for identifying and mitigating risks present in devices, web applications, and networks. This process can help protect organizations from potential cyber threats and safeguard sensitive data.

Risk-based vulnerability management uses machine learning to correlate asset criticality, vulnerability severity, and threat actor activity. It helps cut through the noise so the focus is on the vulnerabilities that pose the most risk to networks and devices.

  • Prioritizes remediation
  • Provides actionable insights
  • Satisfies compliance regulations and standards
  • Reporting

Conclusion: Are they the same?

Similar but different. Different, but good different – that’s what we’ll call these two disciplines.

The difference?

  • Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) takes a broader look at a company’s overall attack surface across all security programs. CTEM combines exposure technologies; vulnerability management, web app security, identity security, and threat intelligence with the operational process used to understand exposures to create incident response workflows.
  • Whereas, Vulnerability Risk Management (VRM) utilizes scanning based on risk and will prioritize that risk. Data is delivered to security teams in a way that allows them to take action based on what is most important to that team.

CTEM and VRM are both proactive management tools used to mitigate attacks from threat actors making a company less likely to experience a breach.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to keeping your organization safe, only what will work best for the company and its assets. Either tool that is used will significantly reduce the risk of a breach, so talk with an expert to see which one is best.

Keep in mind that by 2026 organizations that continue to prioritize exposure management or vulnerability risk management programs will be three times less likely to suffer from a breach. (Implement a Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) Programme, Gartner, July 2022.)