Addressing Patching limitations‭: ‬exploring vulnerability mitigation Strategies

by | May 28, 2023

THE ULTIMATE GOAL: COMPREHENSIVE VULNERABILITY MITIGATION  

Greek mythology’s Sisyphus was condemned to roll a massive boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down repeatedly, requiring him to begin again. Same, organizations may find themselves perpetually engaged in prioritization exercises, constantly reassessing and reprioritizing vulnerabilities as new ones emerge. This unending process can divert attention and resources away from the ultimate goal: comprehensive vulnerability mitigation. 

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66% of security leaders report a vulnerability backlog of over 100,000 vulnerabilities.

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54% of security leaders say they were able to patch less than 50% of vulnerabilities in the backlog.

RISK-BASED VULNERABILITY MANAGEMENT 

Risk-Based Vulnerability Management (RBVM) offers valuable insights to identify and prioritize these vulnerabilities based on their risk levels. It allows security and risk management leaders to allocate resources efficiently, focusing on the most critical areas that require immediate attention. However, RBVM’s scope is limited to prioritization, leaving organizations to face the other side of the vulnerability management coin – The actual mitigation process.  

While it helps identify vulnerabilities that demand immediate action, it does not provide direct solutions for shortening maintenance windows or effectively addressing unpatchable legacy systems. Organizations often encounter situations where they cannot remediate vulnerabilities through traditional patching methods. Some of these challenges arise due to the unavailability of patches from vendors, compliance restrictions in critical infrastructure, untested patches that may disrupt overall functionality, or dependencies on cohabiting software systems. 

Furthermore, RBVM alone does not address the underlying complexities that arise from the interaction between security and IT operations teams. These teams often have divergent priorities, with security aiming to safeguard against threats and IT operations focusing on maintaining uninterrupted system availability. Bridging this gap requires a comprehensive approach that extends beyond risk prioritization. 

BREAK FREE FROM THE SISYPHEAN CYCLE 

While RBVM provides a pragmatic and evidence-based framework for vulnerability management, organizations must recognize its limitations and explore additional strategies to tackle the broader spectrum of challenges they face.   

To break free from the Sisyphean cycle, security and risk management, leaders must embrace a holistic approach encompassing compensating controls and combining automation, virtual patching, consolidation, and non-disruptive remediation. Organizations can effectively mitigate vulnerabilities and enhance their security posture while minimizing the business impact by shifting the focus from solely prioritizing vulnerabilities to implementing a comprehensive, overarching strategy. 

1. HARNESSING THE POWER OF VIRTUAL PATCHING 

Traditional patching approaches often encounter hurdles such as compatibility issues, system disruptions, and delays in obtaining patches. Virtual patching emerges as a valuable alternative, providing immediate protection without the need for traditional patch deployment. By utilizing intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and virtual patching technologies, organizations can create virtual shields that detect and block attempted exploits for the entire organization or only for relevant segments. Virtual patching offers a practical solution for vulnerabilities that cannot be patched immediately, providing critical protection while organizations work on long-term remediation strategies. 

Virtual patching architecture

2. NON-DISRUPTIVE REMEDIATION: BALANCING SECURITY AND BUSINESS CONTINUITY 

One of the primary concerns surrounding vulnerability management is the potential disruption to critical business operations during the remediation process. However, organizations can adopt non-disruptive remediation strategies that minimize business impact. By conducting thorough testing, validation, and risk assessments before virtually patching the different defense layers, organizations can ensure that the chosen actions will not cause unintended consequences or system downtime. Non-disruptive remediation strikes a balance between addressing vulnerabilities and maintaining business continuity. 

3. CONSOLIDATING FOR STREAMLINED MANAGEMENT 

Managing vulnerabilities across numerous systems and applications can be challenging in complex IT environments. Consolidating vulnerability management efforts is essential to ensure comprehensive coverage and efficient resource allocation. Organizations can gain a holistic view of their security posture by centralizing vulnerability scanning, assessment, and reporting through a unified platform. This consolidation allows for more effective prioritization and remediation, reducing the potential for vulnerabilities to go unnoticed or unaddressed. 

Leveraging compensating controls such as intrusion prevention systems (IPS), Web Application and API Protection (WAAP),  Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and network segmentation can prevent the exploitation of vulnerabilities and help organizations mitigate vulnerabilities effectively. 

EMBRACING AUTOMATION FOR EFFICIENT REMEDIATION 

In the face of a relentless influx of vulnerabilities, manual mitigation or remediation processes can become overwhelming and time-consuming. Automation, however, offers a powerful solution. Organizations can streamline the vulnerability management lifecycle by leveraging automation tools, from scanning and detection to remediation. Automated processes enable swift identification and prioritization of vulnerabilities, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently. Moreover, automation facilitates rapid deployment of patches and updates, reducing the window of opportunity for threat actors to exploit vulnerabilities. 

In summary, while patching remains a valuable practice, security and risk management leaders need to acknowledge its limitations. Adopting a comprehensive approach encompassing compensating controls, effective virtual patching, and alternative strategies is crucial for mitigating vulnerabilities and staying ahead of threat actors. Organizations can enhance their vulnerability management practices and bolster their overall security posture by exploring a wider range of options and leveraging automation. 

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