A key component of any successful vulnerability remediation strategy, now maybe more than ever, is collaboration. Yet, it often seems to be overlooked. In order to accurately identify and mitigate threats, companies must adopt a holistic approach that encompasses every aspect of security, development, and operations. As we will see, remediating vulnerabilities quickly and efficiently requires input from multiple parties within your organization—security, networking, software development, DevOps, technical and customer support, as well as business stakeholders.
In this blog post, we explain why collaboration is absolutely vital when it comes to effective remediation and why companies can’t afford to have their teams working in silo. We then provide some points to consider when formulating an effective remediation strategy.
The Importance of Swift Remediation
The purpose of vulnerability remediation is to identify vulnerabilities in data, networks, applications and endpoints and remedy them before they are exploited. Although only around 5.5% of vulnerabilities are actually exploited, enterprises typically manage thousands of servers, some of which could contain important assets. Without an effective remediation strategy in place, companies may not know which of these important assets are exposed, putting the company at serious risk. One of the most important aspects of vulnerability remediation is how long it takes to complete.
Vulnerability remediation is supposed to be preemptive, resolving weaknesses before they are uncovered by attackers. It is therefore crucial that remediation be completed as quickly as possible to minimize breaches. The smallest delay in the process could provide a window for vulnerabilities to be discovered and exploited. So how can you guarantee that your remediation process is fast enough?
Remediation time is strongly impacted by one commonly neglected factor—the degree of collaboration between teams. Since you can’t fix a problem you don’t know exists, it’s imperative that teams get in the habit of sharing knowledge about vulnerabilities and potential threats. While this may seem obvious, reality tells another tale. According to Gartner, 99% of exploited vulnerabilities are known by security and IT teams for at least one year before they are resolved. This disturbing statistic reveals that the problem isn’t in identifying threats, but is, in fact, due to lack of communication.
The importance of collaboration for swift remediation cannot be stressed enough. You can have the best vulnerability screening tools in the world, but if insights aren’t shared properly, remediation will be slow and ineffective, needlessly exposing your company to risk. Perhaps the biggest challenge in fostering collaboration lies in breaking down the deeply entrenched silos that tend to form within organizations.
Why Breaking Down Knowledge Silos Is a Must in Effective Remediation
Although the IT community has come to recognize the importance of continuous collaboration between teams, this concept isn’t put into practice as often as it should. Departments are deeply conditioned to work independently and share information only with their immediate team members, resulting in knowledge silos. These silos are particularly destructive to any remediation efforts.
Remediation is a complex process which depends on many teams. Often the person who discovers the problem isn’t the one who fixes it or is affected by it. The security department identifies potential threats through scanning and audit tools and passes them on to operations, which do the actual patching. Since many applications are modular, patching often requires the collaboration of development teams. For example, operations can’t apply patches to a Java Runtime Environment until the development team has updated its Java applications.
Remediation doesn't end here. Patching can often degrade performance, force a reboot, or lead to downtime for both in-house teams as well as end users. Without a head’s up, these incidents can be highly disruptive, not to mention annoying. Client-facing teams, for instance, need to know about upcoming patches so they can warn customers ahead of time.
Finally, the C-level suite must also be a part of the loop. It is management’s job to resolve conflicts of interest, which inevitably arise between teams. This includes prioritizing remediation tasks, since not all vulnerabilities were created equal. For instance, as a rule of thumb, customer-facing assets should take precedence over internal assets that are only accessed by a few employees.
Looking at this process, it becomes apparent that communication gaps are highly detrimental to remediation. Without the establishment of priorities, urgency, and a clear buy-in of all teams, remediation will generate a lot of lag time, leaving the company wide open to outside threats.
In addition, without knowledge-sharing between security and other teams, only security will know how a vulnerability was identified and what the company’s methods are for doing so. Furthermore, without keeping track of remediation tasks as they travel across departments, you cannot learn from past mistakes. You will not, for example, be able to answer important questions such as why a vulnerability wasn’t fixed in time, why it wasn’t put in high priority, and who the decision-makers were along the way.
Now that we’ve established how important collaboration really is, let’s take a look at how to cultivate it in your company.
How to Cultivate an Effective Remediation Strategy Through Collaboration
Breaking down silos through collaboration can shorten feedback loops and accelerate the discovery of information, processes, and best practices for remediation within the organization. Never underestimate what you can learn from any given team member on remediation. Every department, from networking to customer service, is uniquely positioned to anticipate potential risks and gain insight into how changes can create vulnerabilities in existing systems.
Handling vulnerabilities with agility requires the formulation of a clear remediation strategy.
In order to improve your remediation strategy, the following best practices should be implemented:
- Standardize terminology and definitions across the company.
- Group the assets per business function or service and assign risk impact per group.
- Track SLAs from detection to resolution. Measure “detection to engagement” time and “engagement to fixed” time separately. This will allow you to detect bottlenecks in the process.
- Create a single source of truth for all vulnerabilities and related assets.
- Improve asset inventory as much as possible, including dependencies to be taken into account.
- Share cyber risk and business risk with IT ops and product owners.
- Help non-security teams track tasks in their own systems, such as Jira/Service Now.
- Use automation to shorten time spent on tracking remediation efforts.
Leveraging Automation to Enhance Collaboration
Automation can serve as a powerful tool for boosting collaboration around remediation and in handling vulnerabilities as they arise. It can be applied to different remediation tasks such as vulnerability scanning, reporting, and data aggregation. More importantly, automation can be leveraged to automate the collaboration process itself, managing workflows, prioritizing remediation tasks, and generating and assigning tickets to different teams. But first, let’s take a look at why automation is so important in the first place.
Attempting to stay on top of security alerts is exhausting and taxing on resources, with a quarter of security analysts’ time wasted chasing false positives. Of course, this alert fatigue negatively affects productivity as manual interventions allow silos to fester and take away time from higher-level initiatives, including cross-department collaboration.
How do you remediate vulnerabilities, drive innovation, and keep your team productive? By building a resilient culture backed by automation. Resilient organizations run on communication and collaboration. Leadership in these organizations understand that teams must have the time to cross-collaborate and prioritize tasks.
Automation takes care of time-intensive tasks such as quarantining users and assets, updating network rules, notifying users, and killing processes so teams can focus on a mindset shift. Instead of responding reactively to issues, they can think strategically about their remediation approach and detect issues as they arise.
The siloed, manual approach to remediation is ineffective in today’s environment. Enterprises need a way to unite IT, security, and DevOps tools with threat intelligence and enterprise data. Instead of attempting to keep up with massive amounts of data manually, enterprises can use automation to assess and prioritize vulnerabilities for remediation at scale.
Vulnerability remediation is incredibly important. It’s what exposes weaknesses in your system and nips them in the bud before anyone can take advantage of them. It’s a complex process involving nearly every part of the business, including security, DevOps, operations, development, networking, and customer support all the way to the upper echelons of management.
Despite the high importance of collaboration, teams are often slow to communicate about vulnerabilities and do not have equal buy-in in the remediation process. With so much at stake, companies can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this anymore. Fostering collaboration between teams is the first and most vital step in any solid remediation strategy.
Enhance collaboration within your organization and remediate vulnerabilities at scale with Vulcan Cyber. Request a demo today or check out our on-demand webinar, Going Beyond Prioritization, Remediating Vulnerabilities at Scale.