Busting Patch Pandemonium: The Vulnerability Management Revolution Is Here

The first-generation patching process is on its knees. Having crippled employee satisfaction and offered weaker web application security than its predecessor, companies are finally facing up to the fact that patching needs to change. Intelligent vulnerability management is revolutionizing DevSecOps’ greatest hurdle.

Software vulnerability management

There’s a Hole at the Center of Your Patching Process

Vulnerabilities can seem like an almost unavoidable part of software development. As agile coding has burst onto the scene, security flaws are now a constant component to the software we rely on day to day. In response, vendors are regularly issuing updates to plug the gaps. Applying these necessary updates – the process called patching – has the single goal of cutting out vulnerable pieces of code before they’re exploited by attackers.

Patching has long been touted as the single most important component to technology security. Often described as ‘doing the basics’, widespread patching is viewed as the most basic security principle on offer. Though this is by all means correct on paper, this principle ignores a key underlying context. Today’s tech stacks are blossoming into uber-complex, tightly woven webs of microservices and supporting APIs.

As the number of software components have increased, the demands of traditional patching have grown far beyond the scope of immediate implementation. DevSecOps teams find themselves swamped in acres of patch backlog,

While this backlog causes chaos with retention rates, creating an environment of constant struggle with little payoff, the patching process itself can be deeply unrewarding. It takes time, costs a lot of money, and by-hand patch implementation is distinctly dull and prone to human error.

Patching can knock critical systems offline – ideally they’d be tested before implementation, but this only adds to the black hole of backlog. Furthermore, traditional patches can only be put in place for IT assets that are visible. Across the larger IT estates, maintaining accurate inventories can be a serious barrier to this.

While cyberthreats increase exponentially, the toxic mix of IT staff shortages and patching pileup is rapidly creating an impossible situation. Faced with this, many DevSecOps teams have been reduced to one of two stances: the first is to keep struggling on, still attempting to patch everything – or as much as possible, at least. The second has plagued smaller organizations the worse, with the realization that such a task is impossible to keep up with leading to almost complete abandonment of patching.

Neither strategy is working. The first has led to higher rates of burnout than ever before, as it is clear that it’s essentially impossible to issue patches as fast as they roll in. If every patch is given the same amount of TLC, the team ends up spending lots of time on a relatively small threat, while potentially never getting round a lurking monster. Obviously, the second solution is also completely unviable. However, it’s completely understandable, given the mounting weight of swelling to-do lists.

Teams throwing their hands in the air and abandoning patching altogether may sound extreme, but companies find themselves stuck between the rock of increasing ransomware attacks and skyrocketing job dissatisfaction.

Software developers
photo credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels

How Vulnerability Management Is Changing

It’s clear that confronting teams with never-ending lists of vulnerabilities is breaking DevSecOps. First-generation vulnerability management is increasingly overwhelming the very teams it’s supposed to empower. So, a complete change is in order.

One promising solution is Risk Based Vulnerability Management (RBVM). The core to this revolution is to better understand and assess the risk of each suggested patch implementation. This intelligent form of patch prioritization helps cut through the swathes of low-impact time-wasters, and instead focus on squashing the truly nasty bugs first.

The level of risk presented by each security flaw is calculated via a number of key data points. Firstly, the Common vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) sees the open source identification and severity of software vulnerabilities. The score offered to each vulnerability within the CVSS program ranges between 0.0 and 10.0, calculated by each flaw’s potential severity, urgency, and likelihood of exploitation. With data collected around the vulnerability, it then becomes vital to assess the organization’s own risk – and tolerance. Integrated threat intelligence allows for a deeper understanding of a potential malicious actor’s targets and behaviors.

Once you’ve established a suitable level of risk tolerance, your DevSecOps teams are now handed a dynamic, accessible list of genuine threats.

To start taking steps toward RBVM, the first point of call is to conduct asset discovery. Patch prioritization won’t be as effective if some of your IT assets are hidden in shadows, and quality security solutions offer in-depth asset discovery and classification.

Once you’ve gained a comprehensive overview, it’s vital to clearly establish how your organization ranks and prioritizes risk. This needs to be synchronized throughout all parties, especially security and IT ops, or else the efficiency commanded by RBVM becomes severely unoptimized.

While all involved parties make use of vulnerability prioritization, working on the most critical ones first, the maintenance cycle becomes drastically reduced. At the same time, RBVM lends itself particularly well to automation. The automated collection, contextualization and prioritization of each vulnerability allows for faster and more accurate prioritization, tying up fewer resources than its manual counterpart.

With a streamlined RBVM solution in place, DevSecOps can be free from the unending drudgery of trudging through endless backlogs. Instead, these teams are empowered to truly make a difference to their organization, maintaining a closer eye than ever before on the company’s true security stance.