Vulnerability Management

Monitor published vulnerabilities in third party products

Vulnerabilities in third party products or libraries are a significant risk to organisations. A Security Engineering Team should actively monitor relevant vulnerability databases for newly discovered / published vulnerabilities and alert the impacted delivery teams of new risks.

It should also actively monitor a wide range of public vulnerability data sources (e.g. using a threat intelligence feed) to gain early warning of any new vulnerabilities that might impact the organisation. Automated tooling is available to enable the matching of the data against any software used / developed by the organisation.

Introduce a vulnerability remediation process

In order to respond to identified vulnerabilities effectively, a process should be put in place to help teams understand the steps that should be taken and where they can go for help. Risk assessment forms an important part of this process as it helps determine how best to respond. It can be helpful to model the impact of previous relevant incidents within the organisation, including product stakeholders in this process, and also drawing on threat intelligence on the wider industry. Many organisations and standards bodies have produced guides and standards that can aid this process.

Promote visibility and transparency

In some organisations, security is kept behind closed doors and not readily shared with delivery teams. This leads to a complicated relationship between security and delivery, as delivery teams aren't given sufficient information to adequately address security issues. A common example of this problem is when security logs are sent to a separate SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) tool that isn't made available to the teams that are responsible for the software being monitored.

Security engineers should work openly and collaboratively with delivery teams at all times, ensuring that security logs and metrics are visible to everyone involved in delivery. This can be achieved through dashboards in observability tools and sharing access to all security operations data in real time with delivery teams. After every incident, a blameless post-mortem should be conducted (including all relevant representatives) to identify areas for improvement. These improvements should be shared with the rest of the organisation to ensure it also benefits.

Encourage effective use of penetration testing

Penetration testing is an opportunity to identify security issues. It's most effective when the testing is goal focused (i.e. steal sensitive data) and the tester works in conjunction with the team, explaining issues as they're discovered and providing recommendations on how to fix the issue. This gives the opportunity for the team to fix some issues during the penetration test, and ensures that the final report is well understood. It is least effective when only a vulnerability scan is performed, as that could be automated in the delivery pipeline instead.

Penetration testing is a useful indicator of the success of the practices in Build & Operate.

Manage external security researchers & bug bounties

Some organisations operate bug bounty schemes to encourage independent security researchers to help identify and fix security issues. Regardless of whether you operate a bug bounty, external security researchers expect all companies to provide a well signposted security contact where they can disclose vulnerabilities they've discovered.

Poor handling of disclosed vulnerabilities can lead to uncontrolled public disclosure and bad publicity. Good handling of this can lead to substantial security improvements at a very low cost. That's why organisations need to cultivate good relationships with security researchers, ensuring they're paid promptly, kept informed and not treated with suspicion. Publishing a vulnerability disclosure policy so that security researchers have clear expectations about the disclosure process can be helpful.

Examples:

Evaluate third party vendor / product security

Most organisations require a formal security evaluation before adopting new products or technologies. To do this, it needs technical security expertise to identify risks within the product and any supporting processes (e.g. not just the technical implementation of the product, but also the way the vendor handles security issues and their expertise in security).

Security Engineering should be actively involved in evaluating any third party suppliers & products. This should not be seen as a yes/no assessment, but rather as a way to highlight potential weaknesses and recommend approaches to mitigate that risk.