How to prioritize vulnerabilities based on business risk

Organizing and ranking an application's vulnerabilities to streamline remediation efforts.

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Software development has evolved rapidly, shifting from a waterfall methodology to agile, distributed, with DevSecOps structure, and the supercharged use of AI is empowering distributed development teams to build software with greater speed and autonomy.  This has allowed today's developers to enjoy increased autonomy to innovate more freely. 

However, this progress has also brought challenges. Applications are now predominantly code-driven, and diverse development approaches create varied vulnerabilities. The results are a growing backlog of vulnerabilities that reflect the expanding complexity of securing applications along the development lifecycle.

This shift in development demands a shift in security management — no more chasing vulnerabilities. Instead, a holistic approach to application security posture management (ASPM) will strategically identify and manage risks by focusing on the business-critical aspects of the application. Snyk has launched AppRisk, an ASPM tool focused on providing a holistic approach to managing risks within your applications.

ASPM emphasizes ownership and advocates for a lean, prioritized, and effective AppSec program with a targeted and strategic security approach in line with the evolving nature of software development. In this article, we'll focus on the importance of holistic risk prioritization and why it's an important part of ASPM.

What is vulnerability prioritization, and why is it important?

Vulnerability prioritization entails organizing and ranking an application's vulnerabilities to streamline remediation efforts; this involves assessing each vulnerability based on severity, risk, reachability, business criticality, and potential impact. 

The objective is to first guide security teams in addressing the most high-risk issues. Successful prioritization facilitates data-driven decisions, strategically mitigating business risk rather than fixating solely on the total count of vulnerabilities.

Integrating automated prioritization tools facilitates this security shift, and these tools play a crucial role in streamlining the process, guiding organizations to mitigate the most critical risks, and reflecting a strategic approach to cybersecurity.

Snyk is pioneering the next stage of developer security by adding a focus on business-critical risk to the SDLC with Snyk AppRisk for ASPM. Our solution applies automatic risk analysis for each security issue based on the potential impact and likelihood of exploitability.

Metrics and KPIs for vulnerability prioritization

When prioritizing vulnerabilities, key metrics include severity scores, reachability, business context, asset importance, and overall impact on organizational operations. 

Each metric contributes to a comprehensive assessment, guiding effective remediation efforts and strategic decision-making in cybersecurity.

Key metrics to prioritize

  • Severity metrics: Metrics like the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), Exploitability Score (EPSS), or Snyk Risk Scores can gauge the severity of vulnerabilities and provide a quantitative measure of the potential impact of each vulnerability.

  • Reachability: Understanding reachability, like whether a vulnerability is connected to the internet, helps prioritize vulnerabilities that are more accessible to potential threats, emphasizing a proactive approach to security.

  • Business context and asset importance: Considering the asset's criticality to business operations helps prioritize vulnerabilities that could significantly impact essential functions.

Impact: Evaluating the potential impact of a vulnerability on the organization, including assessing the extent of damage it could cause to systems, data, and overall operational integrity, is essential for informed decision-making in vulnerability management. Understanding the possible consequences helps prioritize mitigation efforts, ensuring a targeted and effective response to vulnerabilities that pose the most significant risk to the organization's systems, data, and operational integrity.

Choosing metrics and KPIs for your organization

A balanced approach is essential when choosing metrics and KPIs for vulnerability prioritization.

  • Quantitative metrics: Track quantitative metrics such as severity, age of vulnerabilities, and reachability for measurable data points and assess the security posture and progress of your vulnerability remediation efforts.

  • Qualitative metrics: Incorporate qualitative factors, like an analysis of business risk and your evolving threat landscape, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the security landscape beyond numerical metrics.

  • Setting Targets: Establish specific targets, such as a percentage reduction in critical vulnerabilities, to guide and measure the effectiveness of your vulnerability management program; this helps create actionable goals and ensure continuous improvement in security practices.

3 types of vulnerability prioritization tools

Understanding the various tools and best practices for effective vulnerability prioritization will significantly enhance an organization's cybersecurity posture.

  1. Vulnerability databases with context: Leveraging databases like Snyk Vulnerability Database provides valuable context to vulnerabilities, aiding in informed decision-making by considering specific details and potential impacts.

  2. Automated prioritization tools: Integrated tools like Snyk AppRisk automate the prioritization process, streamlining the identification and management of vulnerabilities based on predefined criteria.

  3. Custom scoring models and matrices: Developing and utilizing them allows organizations to tailor their prioritization approach, aligning it with unique business requirements and risk assessments. Snyk provides our own risk score based on multiple factors, including reachability, exploit maturity, and more.

3 best practices for vulnerability prioritization

Implementing best practices in vulnerability prioritization is essential for maintaining a robust cybersecurity strategy.

  1. Frequent priority updates: Regularly updating vulnerability priorities ensures that the focus remains on the most current and significant threats, adapting to the dynamic nature of the cybersecurity landscape.

  2. Build a full map of your assets for AppSec: Gaining visibility of all the different assets within your organization can help to determine which are the highest priority for reducing vulnerabilities and ensure that all your assets have been secured; ASPM tooling can help with this step.

  3. Inclusion of business teams: Involving business teams in vulnerability prioritization decisions is crucial. This collaboration ensures alignment with organizational goals and considers the business impact of potential risks.

  4. Emphasis on risk reduction: Shifting the focus from sheer vulnerability counts to strategic risk reduction is essential. Prioritizing actions that mitigate the most critical risks aligns security efforts with broader organizational objectives.

Next steps: Snyk for vulnerability prioritization 

Vulnerability prioritization is seamless with Snyk's developer security platform, designed to enhance risk assessment and streamline remediation efforts across your application’s development lifecycle.

With Snyk, you have: 

  • Snyk AppRisk: With Snyk AppRisk, AppSec teams take a comprehensive and proactive approach to reducing application risk at scale, with complete application discovery, tailored security controls, and risk-based prioritization.

  • Vulnerability scanning: Leveraging advanced vulnerability scanning, Snyk identifies and evaluates vulnerabilities across applications, providing a solid foundation for prioritization.

  • Snyk Code SAST: Snyk Code's static application security testing (SAST) capabilities analyze source code for vulnerabilities, contributing to a proactive approach in prioritizing security issues.

  • Snyk Open Source SCA: With Snyk Open Source for software composition analysis (SCA), organizations can effectively prioritize vulnerabilities in open-source components, minimizing the risk associated with third-party dependencies.

  • Snyk Container: Snyk Container assists in prioritizing vulnerabilities within containerized environments, ensuring a focused approach to securing containerized applications.

  • Snyk IaC: For infrastructure as code (IaC), Snyk's solutions help prioritize vulnerabilities in the configuration, ensuring security considerations are integrated from the early stages of development.

See why Snyk is the chosen AppSec solution for developers and security teams — and what it can do for your team by scheduling a live demo today!

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