Context can help security professionals decide which vulnerabilities found within an organization are the most critical to deal with and which pose the biggest risk to the enterprise as a whole. This requires the proper tools to provide context.

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Managing Security Vulnerabilities and Risks: It’s About Outcomes


Limited budget, limited staff and thousands of security vulnerabilities and risks — sound familiar? It’s the life of a CISO, or really any manager running a security team. So how do you know what to fix and in what sequence?

The answer is embodied in a single word: context. If you have a vulnerability and want to know what to do about it, the first questions to ask are all about context. How severe is it? Where is it? What’s the risk if it is exploited?

More Than You Can Handle

Every organization has vulnerabilities — hundreds or even thousands of them — and you will never be able to fix every one. That’s what makes vulnerability management difficult. But the task is not insurmountable; one good place to start is with a vulnerability scanner.

Traditional scanners, however, only have vulnerability as a context and do not have a complete view of vulnerabilities across your enterprise. They frequently don’t take into account database or application vulnerabilities into account. They can’t see what’s been patched and what hasn’t.

There also isn’t sufficient integration with other security technologies to help you assess risk and understand vulnerabilities within the context of intrusion prevention system (IPS) logs, event data, flow data and more. The scanners don’t take into account configuration or policy data from firewalls, routers and IPS systems that would add additional context around the paths to these vulnerabilities.

What if you identify a high-severity vulnerability in one place and a medium-severity vulnerability in another? Without context, you might fix the high-severity vulnerability first. But what if you knew that your firewall or IPS already blocked exploitation of that high-severity vulnerability and an attack was underway targeting that exposed, medium-severity vulnerability? What would you do then?

How IBM Security Intelligence and Analytics Can Help

IBM Security has taken a much broader approach to the vulnerability and risk management challenge — one where context is king.

First, by integrating with application and database security portfolios, IBM expands the amount of vulnerability data that is available for analysis.

Second, vulnerability management is embedded within the IBM QRadar Security Intelligence Platform, which includes both vulnerability and risk management, and adds context to security events and network flows each day through the application of advanced analytics, rules and data correlation.

This combination will provide insight into:

  1. Where your vulnerabilities are;
  2. Which vulnerabilities and network configurations present the greatest risk; and
  3. Offenses across your enterprise based on external threat intelligence, the latest vulnerability data, IPS and firewall logs, flow data, user data and more.

For example, say a new vulnerability is identified and the solution is to deploy a security patch. The first step is to determine which machines, services and applications exhibit the vulnerability. IBM Security QRadar Vulnerability Manager can do this by performing a simple and straightforward scan. Once you knows what is vulnerable, you need to decide the order in which to proceed with patching. That’s where context comes into play.

How Context Helps Deal With Vulnerabilities

To help with this decision, we need to know whether a system is exposed to the Internet or if it is protected from the outside world via a firewall. We’ll also want to know whether it is part of the production infrastructure or whether it is just a test machine.

This is where IBM Security QRadar Risk Manager enters the picture. As one of its functions, it allows you to write policies that influence the prioritization of vulnerabilities. These policies can take into account not only the host’s security posture, but also firewall and IPS rules, configuration, routing information and flow traffic.

We can also write a policy that tests if a server is in a production or test environment and whether it can be reached via inbound traffic from the Internet. The policy will increase or decrease the risk score in IBM Security QRadar Risk Manager based on the answers to the questions. This information, combined with context, can guide you in determining what to patch and in what order.

This approach transforms vulnerability and risk management into a practical method of prioritizing vulnerabilities and risks based on data and context. It is centered on helping you address your security challenges through analytics and integration. It focuses on outcomes instead of activity.

After all, outcomes are what it’s all about.

Download the white paper: Managing Security Risks and Vulnerabilities

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