What is Vulnerability Prioritization?

Feb 01, 2022

In an ideal world, security teams would remediate all vulnerabilities as soon as they are discovered, eliminating both small and large risks. However, zero inboxing in the world of vulnerability management is a mere pipe dream. 

The reality is more similar to a nightmare, in fact, with an exponential rise in vulnerability volume over time. In other words, the problem is getting worse. With this ever-increasing threat landscape, it’s important for organizations to focus on the vulnerabilities that pose the most risk to their network. 

This can be achieved through vulnerability prioritization, which involves ranking and attacking risks based on the possible impact on the organization..

Vulnerability Scanning Vendor Prioritization

Given the complexity, it may come as a surprise that there are no general practices or formal standards for how to prioritize these vulnerabilities based on risk to the organization. There are many things to research in this space, but there is no consensus on the right approach for a wide range of reasons, including the fact that most organizations have different perceptions on the significance of different risk factors in the vulnerability prioritization formula. 

Generally, vulnerability scanning vendors provide excellent vulnerability frameworks which include things like exploit availability, potential impact and CVSS score. However, they are blind to the business context of the assets impacted by each vulnerability and lack up-to-date vulnerability intelligence on exploit activity. 

Just like how it’s not feasible for an IT administrator to fix every single known vulnerability, it’s also impossible for these vendors to know each and every business environment nuance and account for it in their severity rating.

Therefore, while vulnerability scanning vendors are helpful in telling organizations which vulnerabilities pose a higher risk and need more attention, the true risk posed by any given vulnerability is based on other factors that are linked to the assets impacted by the vulnerability, compensating security controls in place, and exploitation activity occurring in the wild. 

In order to get the most accurate risk-based prioritization, it’s vital for organizations to fully contextualize the vulnerability data generated by vulnerability scanning tools and all other sources of vulnerability data in the enterprise. For example, bug bounty programs, attack surface monitoring tools, configuration scanning tools and much more. 

There are many components needed to create and carry out an effective prioritization technique. Businesses need to use the right tools, get the right expert, plan properly and have well-qualified staff on hand to execute.

Vulnerability prioritization has become an essential tool because there are many vulnerabilities out there, and it’s difficult to address all of them. Organizations need to find a way to identify the vulnerabilities that pose the biggest threats and address the highest risk first. 

Why Vulnerability Prioritization Is Important

As the number of application vulnerabilities is increasing, it’s impossible for IT firms to successfully address every possible threat. If you spread your resources across all of the potential vulnerabilities, you won’t be able to address any issue comprehensively, leaving your organization more vulnerable to an attack.

Vulnerability prioritization is the best approach. It helps you shape down a huge quantity of threats to a manageable list that your team can accurately address while keeping your organization safe. The prioritization piece of this is essential. You don’t want to dedicate resources to vulnerabilities that are not likely to pose serious threats to the organization.

If you follow proper security testing procedures, you will likely use a wide range of tools to identify potential application vulnerabilities, which include DAST, SAST, SCA, IAST and even manual testing. Each tool produces its own report of issues and threats. It is time-consuming to sort through the results and know the threats that pose the biggest risk.

How to Properly Prioritize Application Vulnerabilities
Follow Risk-Based Decision Making 

Vulnerability prioritization should be based on risk. Tools can help weed out the biggest threats, but they need to be weighed against the risk to the firm. What is the impact of a given application vulnerability to the operations, reputation and bottom line? The bigger the impact, the higher the threat should go on your list.

Automate 

Automating the application security testing process is the first step in finding potential vulnerabilities. There are many tests out there these days that do not automate. Consequently, one tool can’t provide comprehensive coverage. Therefore, it’s now necessary to use a combination of testing tools and even more than one of each type of tool. The only way you can prioritize vulnerabilities is to first identify as many of them as possible.

Research 

Stay on top of which vulnerabilities attackers are targeting the most. Your team can use cybersecurity reports to get this information. Then, ascertain whether your testing tools are discovering any of these vulnerabilities. If they are, they should be moved to the high-priority list.

Use an Application Vulnerability Manager 

This tool is not another testing tool. Rather, it takes the results of your testing tools and simplifies the process of weeding through the results. 

An application vulnerability manager duplicates the results from your AppSec tools, offering you one single report to scan. It provides you with a single report, rather than several overlapping reports, which simplifies remediation for your programmers.

It identifies the specific lines of code where vulnerabilities exist, and it speeds up the remediation process. Reports that allow you to track progress offers management a solid view of how remediation is going.

Track Progress 

Once you have prioritized the application vulnerabilities that are most critical, you need to be able to monitor and track progress on remediation. An additional benefit of an application vulnerability manager is that it incorporates the development environments and issue-tracking tools such as Eclipse and Jira. 

Developers can be assigned issues within their chosen working environments. Therefore, they are more likely to pay attention to the threats that need attention. A robust tool will also offer metrics so executives and managers can track progress and ensure high-priority vulnerabilities are getting the attention they deserve.

People are Important 

Technology and tools are important, but it’s just as important to ensure everyone on your team knows how critical security is. Employees need to know how vital it is to address and remediate high-priority issues immediately. 

A proper approach to application vulnerability management helps you identify the biggest threats to your company. This is an essential step in defending the company’s reputation and bottom line. Therefore, successful businesses take a careful approach by using the right technology, tools and people.

 

Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash

Written by

Kent Weigle

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