Common Hurdles That Hamstring Vulnerability Management Maturity—And How to Overcome Them

Dec 7, 2022
Kenna Security

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While economic downturns are ricocheting across continents, energy shortages are fueling fears worldwide, and climate change effects are erupting around the globe, security leaders are trying to navigate unprecedented attacks and grapple with the implications of increased connectivity.  

Yet even in the face of mounting obstacles and expanding attack surfaces, too many security leaders default to the idea that their current vulnerability prioritization/management solution is “good enough.” They’re settling for an approach that can (and statistically will) throw a massive wrench in their “let’s see what happens” approach.  

When “good enough” isn’t nearly enough 

When we asked security decision makers about their choice to stick with their traditional vulnerability management solutions already in place, many responded with the sentiment that it’s “good enough” —with an unspoken “for now” hanging on the end of that sentence.  

We’ve seen what can happen when successful exploits meet unsuspecting, unprepared environments. Whether they stemmed from a lack of data-driven prioritization, or a dearth of real-world threat intelligence to bolster context, attacks have often led to massive financial losses, compromised data, and tarnished brand reputations. 

As security resilience emerges as a top priority for security and business leaders alike, one of the most pressing concerns for organizations is to find a way to stem the tide of rising vulnerabilities while more efficiently and effectively lowering risk. Many are finding their old remediation tactics aren’t doing them any favors. In fact, they could be detrimental to the growth and maturity of their security operations. 

Common hurdles that hamper vulnerability management maturity 

For those trying to muscle their way through today’s heightened threat landscape using their current vulnerability management strategies, some chronic issues are likely to emerge that reveal the traditional VM approach isn’t working any longer. Here are some of the most common challenges we see and why they’re an issue. The real question is: How many of these sound familiar? 

  • Too many “high-risk” vulnerabilities with no definitive prioritization. Relying on scanner scoring or CVSS alone robs you of useful insight into the vulnerabilities likely to impact your environment and leave you chasing vulns you don’t need to. You know all those vulnerabilities deemed high-priority or critical? Only a few are actually exploited in the wild. What’s more: We’ve found that some of the most damaging CVEs have been incorrectly assigned with low CVSS scores. 
  • Wasting resources chasing vulnerabilities that don’t pose a real threat. When you’re asked to “do more with less,” you’d better be focused on the vulnerabilities that matter. How? By going risk-based. After transitioning to a risk-based approach, one company was able to reduce the number of vulnerabilities it targeted by 93%. 
  • Difficulty conveying progress to leadership. Do your execs and board members speak CVE? Probably not. So how can you demonstrate your success in defending against emerging threats easily and quickly, and reassure execs that you’re not leaving the business exposed—especially when headlines send them into “panic mode?” 
  • Conflicts between Security and IT over what to remediate and why. Most organizations have the capacity to fix just 10% to 15% of the observed vulnerabilities in their environment. IT operations and Security waste time fighting over what to patch first, which leaves IT with less time for other projects. How many person hours are you willing to sacrifice to confusion and guesswork? 
  • Little actionable insight into emerging threats. Three out of four exploited CVEs are weaponized within a month of publication. When the clock is ticking, you need actionable insights fast. Is your current VM program delivering them? 
  • Lack of third-party data. Threat intel categories abound, but most feeds provide data for only one category and can’t provide the context you need to understand your true risk. Are you really going to subscribe to 10, 15 or even 20 separate feeds? No? Then which are you willing to skip? 
  • Difficulty communicating risk to leadership. Do your execs and board members speak CVE? Probably not. How can you demonstrate your success in prioritizing and defending against emerging threats easily and with data-driven precision? 

Power up with risk-based prioritization and actionable threat intel 

If one or more of these hurdles hit home, don’t panic—there’s a path forward. Optimizing remediation efficiency means achieving the lowest possible risk profile with all teams collaborating in a state of constant readiness. Once realized, teams will be able to navigate whatever threat is thrown their way with confidence. And when the inevitable attack hits, they’ll be able to emerge stronger on the other end.  

While every organization’s journey to achieve this end state looks different there are common threads that run through each. Two key capabilities will help you evolve your vulnerability management program, lower your risk posture, and achieve remediation nirvana. 

1. Data-driven, risk-based prioritization. To effectively prioritize and anticipate risk, you need a dependable vulnerability management strategy that goes beyond CVSS scores or scanner-based prioritization. You need an intelligent, predictive and data-backed solution—one able to factor in external threat and vulnerability intelligence, combine that with insight into how critical each vuln is to your organization, and automatically serve up your biggest risks that need attention. 

Top-tier solutions offer clear, intuitive KPI dashboards and reporting. Easy-to-understand reporting and metrics are key to aligning leadership with the right level of risk for your organization’s circumstances—and to getting them up to speed quickly and easily. This flows into other departments and contributes to building positive collaboration between security and IT teams. With an agreed-upon language and a tool that identifies and quantifies risk, everyone benefits from a single source of data-backed truth. Intuitive risk meters and a self-service environment helps create communal buy-in to the game plan (and even healthy competition between remediation teams). 

These remediation efficiencies ultimately impact the bottom line for the better. Organizations save time and money by automating time-intensive remediation steps and focusing resources on the vulnerabilities that matter. Once teams embrace a risk-based approach, they start lowering risk in as few moves as possible.  

2. Enhanced threat and vulnerability intelligence. Organizations have had a notoriously difficult time becoming “data-driven.” Efforts to turn big data into useful insights have been pushed down in priority by seemingly more immediate needs. This can leave companies insight-starved and less competitive in a world that rewards decisive and swift responses and data-backed predictions.  

Context-rich vulnerability intel powered by machine learning empowers teams to understand the potential impact of a recently announced vulnerability. Leading vendors offer machine learning coupled with predictive data science to analyze and score every vulnerability so teams can better understand its true risk and answer questions like: Has this vulnerability been used in a breach? Is an exploit for this vulnerability published? What is the likelihood of this being exploited? How will it impact my specific environment? 

Real-world threat intelligence enables you to make decisive moves early and confidently when determining which vulns pose a risk to you. You can even anticipate when new vulnerabilities will be introduced to your IT environment and which vulns will be weaponized with up to 94% accuracy, in some cases. 

Stop settling for less-than-stellar vulnerability management 

If your organization is like most, you’ll probably agree that there’s more you can be doing to right your security posture against an increasingly risky world. A recent PwC survey of business executives around the globe uncovered that cybersecurity is the No. 1 business risk facing organizations today, with 40% of all respondents (including roles outside of IT or risk management) citing it as a serious risk. More than 79% of risk leaders said their biggest challenge is keeping up with the speed of digital transformations, prompting major investments in data analytics and automation, key areas addressed with risk-based prioritization.  

The truth is you can’t afford anything less than stellar vulnerability management in today’s climate. The faster you can assume a risk-based approach, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the next threat with confidence.  

To evolve your remediation efforts and start your journey towards optimizing vulnerability management, check out our on-demand webinar, Posture Perfect: 5 Tips for Straightening Up Your Vulnerability Management Program 

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