There are many components required to create and carry out an effective cyber security strategy. Enterprises need to use the right tools, possess the right knowledge, plan appropriately, and have well-qualified staff on hand to execute.

Vulnerability prioritization has become a necessary tool, as there are now too many vulnerabilities out there to address them all. Organizations need a way to identify the vulnerabilities that pose the biggest threats—and address those first. 

In this post, we focus our attention specifically on application vulnerability management and how you can effectively identify and prioritize vulnerabilities for a strong defense against attacks.

 Why vulnerability prioritization is important

As the number of application vulnerabilities continues to increase, it’s impossible for organizations to successfully address every possible threat. If you spread your resources across all of the potential vulnerabilities, you won’t be able to address any one issue thoroughly, leaving your organization more vulnerable to an attack.

Vulnerability prioritization is the ideal approach. It helps you whittle down a huge pile of threats to a manageable list that your team can realistically address while keeping your organization secure. The prioritization piece of this is key. You don’t want to dedicate resources to vulnerabilities that are not likely to pose serious threats to the business.

If you follow proper application security testing procedures, you likely use a number of different tools to identify potential application vulnerabilities, ranging from SAST, DAST, IAST, SCA, and even manual testing. Each tool produces its own report of threats and issues. It is very time-consuming to sort through the results and identify the threats that pose the biggest risk.

Here are some steps you can follow and some tools you can use to make this process simpler.  

How to properly prioritize application vulnerabilities

Follow risk-based decision making 

Vulnerability prioritization should be based on risk. Tools can absolutely help weed out the biggest threats, but they need to be weighed against the risk to the organization. 

What is the impact of a given application vulnerability to the bottom line, operations, and reputation? The bigger the impact, the higher the threat should go on your list.

Automate 

Automating the application security testing process is the first step in identifying potential vulnerabilities. There are too many threats out there these days to not automate. 

The truth is, one tool cannot provide comprehensive coverage. It’s now necessary to use a combination of testing tools and even more than one of each type of tool. The only way you can prioritize vulnerabilities is to first identify as many of them as possible.

Research 

Stay on top of which vulnerabilities attackers are targeting the most. (Side note: Successful attacks are more likely to recur, so pay careful attention to success rates.) 

Your team can use cyber security reports to obtain this information. Then, identify whether your testing tools are detecting any of these vulnerabilities. If they are, they should be moved to the high-priority list.

Use an application vulnerability manager 

This tool is not another testing tool. Rather, it takes the results of your testing tools and streamlines the process of weeding through the results. 

An application vulnerability manager deduplicates the results from your AppSec tools, giving you one single report to scan. It provides you with one report, rather than numerous overlapping reports, which simplifies remediation for your programmers.

It identifies the specific lines of code where vulnerabilities exist, speeding up the remediation process. Reports that allow you to track progress give management a solid view of how remediation is going.

Conduct Hybrid Analysis Security Testing (HAST) 

HAST—also referred to as application vulnerability correlation (AVC)—is an added feature in certain application vulnerability management tools. It is the process of combining and cross-checking the results of SAST and DAST tools to give you deeper insights into threats against your applications. 

SAST tools identify potential vulnerabilities, while DAST tools identify which vulnerabilities are actually exploitable by an outside attacker. A tool that cross-references the results from your SAST and DAST tools can give you a final report highlighting which vulnerabilities exist and are exploitable—giving you actionable insight for proper prioritization. 

Track progress 

Once you have prioritized which application vulnerabilities are the most critical, you need to be able to monitor and track progress on remediation. An added benefit of an application vulnerability manager is that it integrates with development environments and issue-tracking tools, such as Jira and Eclipse. 

Developers can be assigned issues within their preferred working environments, so they are more likely to pay attention to the threats needing attention. A robust tool will also provide metrics so managers and executives can track progress and make sure high priority vulnerabilities are getting the attention they deserve.

Don’t forget the people 

Tools and technology are important, but it’s just as important to make sure everyone on your team understands just how critical security is. Employees need to know how essential it is to address and remediate high priority issues right away. 

This message has to come above, from the C-suite level, in order to be effective. Otherwise, individuals are more likely to worry about meeting the next deadline instead of fixing an existing threat that may or may not be exposed.

A proper approach to application vulnerability management helps you identify the biggest threats to your organization. This is a critical step in defending the bottom line and reputation. Successful businesses take a careful approach, using the right tools, technology, and people.