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Three key challenges in vulnerability risk management

Michelangelo Sidagni, CTO, NopSec | Sept. 7, 2015
Vulnerability risk management has re-introduced itself as a top challenge – and priority – for even the most savvy IT organizations. Despite the best detection technologies, organizations continue to get compromised on a daily basis. Vulnerability scanning provides visibility into potential land mines across the network, but often just results in data tracked in spreadsheets and independent remediation teams scrambling in different directions.

* Program governance. The adage, “You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it” is true when it comes to evaluating the success of a vulnerability risk management program. In general, information security programs are hard to measure compared to other operational functions such as sales and engineering. One can create hard metrics, but it is often difficult to translate those metrics into measurable business value.

There is no definitive answer for declaring success. For most organizations, this will likely vary depending on the regulatory nature of their industry and overall risk management strategy. However, IT and security teams demonstrate greater value when they can show the level of risk removed from critical systems.

Establishing the right metrics is the key to any successful governance program, but it also must have the flexibility to evolve with the changing threat landscape. In the case of vulnerability risk management, governance may start with establishing baseline metrics such as number of days to patch critical systems or average ticket aging. As the program evolves, new, and more specific, metrics can be introduced such as number of days from discovery to resolution (i.e., time when a patch is available to actual application).

Practitioners can start improving the process by making some simple changes. For example, most vulnerability assessment tools offer standard prioritization of risks based on CVSS score and asset classification. However, this approach is still generating too much data for remediation teams. Some organizations have started to perform advanced correlation with threat intelligence feeds and exploit databases. Yet, this process can be a full-time job in itself, and is too taxing on resources.

Technologies exist today to help ease this process through automation by enriching the results of vulnerability scan data with rich context beyond the CVSS score. Through correlation with external threat, exploit, malware, and social media feeds and the IT environment, a list of prioritized vulnerabilities is delivered based on the systems most likely to be targeted in a data breach. Automating this part of the process with existing technologies can help cut the time spent on prioritization from days to hours.

Today, vulnerability management has become as much about people and process as it is about technology, and this is where many programs are failing. The problem is not detection. Prioritization, remediation, and program governance have become the new precedence. It is no longer a question of if you will be hacked, but rather when, and most importantly, how. The inevitable breach has become a commonly accepted reality. Vulnerability risk management calls for a new approach that moves beyond a simple exercise in patch management to one focused on risk reduction and tolerable incident response.

 

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