You can’t do Vulnerability Management without Context

Team Wabbi

March 22, 2023

Everyday, CISOs and Engineering VPs are prioritizing their organizations’ tasks into lists: the must-dos, the need-to-dos, and the can-be-done-laters (or not at all). They use a variety of considerations in this exercise: business goals, risk management, resource availability, opportunity cost to help them make the best informed decisions possible. Yet, when it comes to vulnerability management, CISOs and Engineering VPs often find themselves in a quandary: their current processes and tools fail to bring in any business or operating context. They’re left operating blind as they decide: what vulnerabilities do we need to fix and why?

Context-based vulnerability prioritization, the process of assessing and assigning risk levels to vulnerabilities based on their potential impact on the environment they exist within, is an important technique that can help organizations make the most efficient and effective use of their AppSec spend across multiple and competing priorities.

Understanding the importance of risk-based vulnerability prioritization

When it comes to Vulnerability Management, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why context-based prioritization is essential – it enables AppSec teams to deploy remediation strategies and SLAs that align with their overall business risk strategy. By applying context to the vulnerability results, teams can tweak and optimize their vulnerability management process so they are prioritizing working on the vulnerabilities that reduce the most risk. Risk based prioritization can ensure that the most important security areas are address first, with less critical vulnerabilities addressed further down the line.

Context attributes used to make these decisions includes the vulnerability severity, vulnerability age, exploitability of the vulnerability, project risk, business goals.  Some or all of these attributes can be specific to each organization. Use of this context enables effective vulnerability management, since organizations can guide their efforts to resolve the vulnerabilities that provide the most risk relief. Automated context-based risk-prioritization also offers agility when it comes to rapidly responding to changing priorities as the threat landscape evolves over time. Organizations that implement this automation can embrace DevSecOps while intelligently prioritizing their security efforts within their overall risk context.

Vulnerability Management – the wrong way

When it comes to DevSecOps, vulnerability management is an integral part of Application Security – and often the first thing people think of in Application Security. Yet too often, all organizations end up doing is bulk prioritization based solely on vulnerability severity without the context of business risk and application risk of the vulnerability. Sure, that’s often easier and faster in the short term – but it won’t equip them with the bigger picture context needed to automate an entire process. In order to keep up with the speed and scalability expectations of DevOps while maintaining security posture acceptable to the business, AppSec teams need go beyond shortcuts and instead embrace full automation and orchestration that reacts smartly to changing environments. It’s the only way to truly get a foothold on DevSecOps.

Without a well thought out and automated process, DevSecOps teams will keep creating tickets and notifications to patch individual vulnerabilities that may not make business sense when using all additional context. A DevSecOps team should focus on automation of an entire workflow instead of a multitude of short cuts as they give organizations the proactive security practice and visibility needed to protect their most valuable assets from attack.

Automate classification & remediation assignment without requiring manual intervention

DevSecOps and Application Security are both integral components of organizations’ vulnerability management strategies, and building a risk scoring system to prioritize vulnerabilities is an effective way to manage enterprise security with limited resources. When designing such a system, it’s important to consider the context in which each vulnerability occurs so that it can be accurately assessed, as well as its potential for causing harm. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a risk scoring system, DevSecOps practitioners can create tailored systems that suit their specific requirements and provide key insights into which vulnerabilities pose the greatest threat and should be rectified first.

DevSecOps requires all stakeholders of software product development to work together to ensure application security at scale. To make this effective, an efficient risk scoring system should be implemented that factors in the context of each vulnerability and clearly prioritizes them. DevSecOps teams need to act smartly when it comes to vulnerability management; the risk scoring system should be designed with a view to balance out the project delivery mandates and application security goals. In order for DevSecOps to succeed, appropriate conditions must be created for Security operations that are aligned and integrated with DevOps processes and procedures.

DevSecOps and AppSec teams have long been toiling away with manual processes for identifying critical assets and services, often just finding quick ‘band-aids’ to address the here-and-now. While this works in some cases, it fails when context is paramount – such as when identifying critical assets and services that are vulnerable to attack.

By unifying security into DevOps procedures early on, organizations can make sure that the applications they have deployed have adequate security protection from malicious actors and malware. However, risk must still be managed to ensure that those assets remain secure. It requires rigorous application security testing to identify and mitigate software vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by adversaries. DevSecOps provides a unique opportunity to protect digital assets from malicious actors by building secure systems from the ground up.



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