How to Prioritize Vulnerabilities

Pallavi Vishwakarma
July 2, 2023

What is Vulnerability Prioritization?

One of the crucial elements in the vulnerability management process is vulnerability prioritizing. An organization's network has a lot of open security flaws or vulnerabilities at any given time, and more are discovered every week. Prioritizing vulnerabilities entails determining which problems require immediate attention, which can wait a few days, and which are merely annoying.

Why does a company needs Vulnerability Prioritization?

Software development and application security teams increasingly rely on vulnerability detection tools throughout development as the number of known vulnerabilities grows yearly. As a result, teams are frequently overburdened with a constant stream of security alarms that must be addressed, and it is becoming obvious that it is only possible to try to solve some things.

Due to this, companies never appear to be able to bridge the gap between the number of existing and emerging vulnerabilities in their environment and the number of ones that have been fixed, regardless of the resources and efforts put forward. Companies have begun prioritizing vulnerability patching, although it can be difficult to tell whether a vulnerability can be exploited in a specific organization's environment based merely on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) score when one is discovered.

That’s why it is important to prioritize vulnerabilities on the basis of various factors rather than depending on one.

Following are the factors you can consider while deciding the risk of a vulnerability

1. Prioritizing by vulnerability severity:

More consideration should go into prioritizing a vulnerability whose severity level or CVSS score is higher. In most cases, the severity and CVSS score of a vulnerability describes how readily it may be exploited and the consequences for your company if it were. 

Additionally, the severity of vulnerability can also be decided by identifying whether it is connected to a component or dependency that you use in your code. If not, then your code base is not in danger and vulnerability doesn’t pose that much risk to your system.

2. Was the vulnerability discovered using an authenticated scan:

The most serious flaws might be false positives if it is identified using an unauthenticated scan. Therefore, it's crucial to confirm whether the detected vulnerability is indeed present in the system or if your vulnerability scanner accidentally combined it with another vulnerability.

3. Impact on your Assets:

Some vulnerabilities affect the entire infrastructure, while others may only affect a small number of systems. Therefore, the security team should assess the effect of critical vulnerabilities on all deployed assets within an organization.

And if the vulnerabilities are impacting over 80% of all the assets then it should be on your top priority list otherwise if it's affecting only 1 or 2 systems you can rethink prioritizing it.

4. Sensitivity of the Assets:

Asset Sensitivity attempts to assist you in identifying the systems that would suffer the most harm if compromised.

Generally speaking, public assets are riskier than private assets, but this does not always imply that they should be given preference. This is because not all publicly owned property is sensitive. Public assets can range from processing payments and personally identifiable information (PII) to simple static pages devoid of any user information. As a result, even though an asset is public, you still need to consider its sensitivity.

5. Assess Exposure Time:

A vulnerability offers a greater risk the longer it is left unchecked in your environment. Hackers are more likely to attack if particular exploitable flaws are present in a company's system for a long period of time since they have had time to scan, create scripts, and then use that vulnerability to harm your business.

In addition to exposure time, hackers are more likely to exploit a weakness if it exists in one of the most popular systems used by your company, like the Windows OS.

6. Popularity:

Some teams decide if a vulnerable component needs quick maintenance based on its popularity, reasoning that these components are the most desirable targets for hackers. Although the hacker community does pay attention to well-known open-source vulnerabilities, there are other considerations and popularity isn't the sole way to gauge a vulnerability's risk.

7. Ease to remediate:

Prioritizing the vulnerabilities that are the simplest to patch is an additional common strategy. Teams may be able to deal with many problems at once because of this, but there is no assurance that they will only deal with the most pressing ones.

Sometimes the vulnerability can be reduced with a system configuration modification that gets around the issue, potentially with less risk to business operations. Patches, configuration changes, and other workarounds are not always available. If this is the case, you have the choice to either shut down the machine completely or take the risk and address the problem later. You can also choose to uninstall the susceptible software. The needs of your company and the available mitigations may affect the order in which a vulnerability should be fixed.

SecOps Solution is an award-winning agent-less Full-stack Vulnerability and Patch Management Platform that helps organizations identify, prioritize and remediate security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in seconds.

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