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Vulnerability Management Workflow

Organizations that continue to rely on messy, manual vulnerability management processes are prone to “unforced errors” that can lead to increased business risk or event breaches. Alternatively, they can opt to implement a vulnerability management workflow management platform that delivers efficiency and effectiveness. Such tools help optimize security operations, enhance productivity, increase collaboration and reduce risk. You may already be familiar with workflow automation platforms for IT such as those from UiPath, Automation Anywhere and ServiceNow, or more general purpose platforms such as Monday.com.

What is Workflow Management?

Workflow management is the practice of creating, running, managing and monitoring the set of steps required to complete a task or process. This includes mapping out the steps, understanding what each step requires, creating and enforcing sequences, optimizing them and keeping all stakeholders in the loop.

Automated workflow management helps reduce manual errors, eliminate bottlenecks, improve communication and collaboration between stakeholders and increase visibility. This improves the speed and quality of work and drives organizational efficiency, reliability and productivity. That’s why workflow management is ideal for environments with multi-step processes that involve multiple stakeholders, have little room for human error, or are regulated.

What is a Vulnerability Workflow Management System?

In the context of vulnerability management, a workflow management system coordinates and optimizes processes for identifying, assessing, and mitigating software vulnerabilities and risks. A structured approach (i.e. the workflow) helps convert disparate and complex data into actionable intelligence, enabling security teams to effectively preempt threats.

A typical vulnerability management workflow process might look like this:

Step 1: The workflow begins with automated scanning tools – vulnerability scanners, network scanners, application security testing tools, etc. – that regularly scan the organization’s networks, systems, cloud resources and applications. These tools identify zero-day vulnerabilities, known vulnerabilities (such as unpatched software), insecure configurations and other security weaknesses. This might also be complemented with periodic penetration testing, red-teaming and even penetration testing as-a-service solutions.

Step 2: These security findings are consolidated, normalized, deduplicated and aggregated into a single backlog to be analyzed. This step involves integrating findings data from the various sources and tools mentioned in Step 1 to try to gain a comprehensive view of the security posture either across the entire attack surface, or across specific IT domains, such as code, cloud and infrastructure.

Step 3: Each identified vulnerability is then assessed for risk and prioritized. This involves evaluating the severity of the vulnerability, the potential impact of an exploit, and the likelihood of an attack. Third party threat intelligence and open source intelligence (OSINT) is often leveraged at this step. 

Step 4: The results of the analysis and prioritization now need to be communicated. Detailed reports on the identified vulnerabilities, categorizing them based on severity and urgency, are generated and delivered to relevant stakeholders, such as development teams and IT operations teams.

Step 5: The remediation portion involves doing the work to address the gaps. This happens through a variety of methods depending on the types of gaps, including automated tools and processes for patching vulnerabilities (i.e., patch management systems), configuration changes applied to individual systems, and changes to infrastructure-as-code (IAC). In the case of software that the organization has created, re-coding may be necessary so that the software is no longer vulnerable, or third-party components may need to be updated.

Step 6: Validation. Post-remediation, the affected systems are re-scanned or otherwise tested to verify that the vulnerabilities have been successfully addressed. Breach and attack simulation (BAS) products are sometimes used to help automate portions of this phase. Compliance reports are generated to document the actions taken and ensure adherence to organizational or regulatory standards.

Why Does Vulnerability Management Workflow Matter?

Vulnerability workflow management improves the operations, efficiency and resiliency of any security team and ultimately helps accelerate time to remediation. That reduces the window of time during which an organization is vulnerable to attack. In an era of advanced cyber threats, a well-designed workflow is pivotal for proactive and effective vulnerability management.

Here are some of the main benefits of vulnerability workflow management:

Accelerating Remediation

An optimized workflow enhances the speed and efficacy of vulnerability management. A clear and streamlined process ensures consistency, eliminates guesswork and reduces manual errors. By knowing what to prioritize and who the responsible fixing team is, organizations can elevate their capacity to respond promptly to emerging threats, thereby reducing their Mean Time to Remediation (MTTR). The Microsoft Exchange Server data breach in 2021 is a prime example of the need for a speedy response, where vulnerabilities in email servers led to widespread compromises. An effective workflow system could facilitate quicker and more effective responses to prioritize and remediate such high-priority threats, reducing the window of exposure.

Streamlining Operations

Workflow management streamlines operations by simplifying the process of identifying and addressing vulnerabilities. By defining clear sequences for tasks, automating processes, and creating standardization in tasks and outputs, employees spend less time figuring out what needs to be done and more time on actually doing it – or other important tasks.

Increasing Transparency

A well-defined workflow clarifies how tasks should be completed, the necessary steps to take, and who should be completing them. With such information visible to all stakeholders, there is greater transparency; issues, gaps or bottlenecks in the workflow can be identified and addressed, allowing for more accountability and less disruption.

Increasing Output

Workflow management boosts productivity. Process optimization, automation, collaboration and efficient use of resources help foster an efficient work cycle. Strategically, data-driven insights facilitate informed decisions for further operational improvements, contributing to an even more productive work environment.

Enabling Adaptability and Scalability

Vulnerability workflow management enables an organization to be adaptable and scalable. As the techstack expands and more findings inevitably come in, a workflow management system can help the security team manage these higher demands with ease. Similarly, a workflow management system is crucial to accommodating organizational changes. The unexpected shift to remote work in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic introduced new cybersecurity challenges, demonstrating the need for workflow systems that could adapt to the changing work environment and increase in remote access vulnerabilities.

Improve Communication

Workflow management facilitates better collaboration and communication between security and fixing teams. A vulnerability workflow establishes clear roles and responsibilities, streamlines the exchange of information and centralizes tracking of the remediation status and SLA compliance. Such features reduce misunderstanding and redundant communication and ensure all stakeholders are aligned, resulting in more efficient and effective collaboration.

6 Must-Have Features of a Vulnerability Workflow Management Platform

A robust vulnerability workflow management platform should have a set of core features that enable organizations to create, implement, manage, and optimize their vulnerability management workflows effectively. Here are the must-have features for such a platform:

1. Integration Capabilities

The platform must have the ability to integrate with multiple security scanners and testing tools across various domains, such as cloud, code and infrastructure, in order to collect the various findings. By operating seamlessly with all security testing tools in use by the organization, the platform can facilitate comprehensive vulnerability management.

2. Choosing and Routing Findings

A vulnerability workflow management platform should prioritize findings, based on customized guidelines, and route them to the relevant remediation teams. Then, intelligent metadata correlations and resource integrations allow for smart routing of requests to remediators in the native management platform they already use. This ensures that the right issues are addressed by the appropriate teams or individuals, enhancing consistency and the effectiveness of the process.

3. Workload Management

A workflow solution should streamline tasks and risks by queueing tasks in a methodical manner. This enables fixing teams to manage their workload effectively by allowing them to accept, clarify, reroute, or reject requests based on their capacity and expertise. Queue management helps maintain workflow efficiency and ensures timely response to critical issues.

4. Ease of Management

A useful workflow management platform should make it easy to design, visualize, and modify workflows. This enhances user engagement and ensures that workflows are effectively implemented.

A low-code workflow platform supports this capability, allowing users to modify workflows without being coding experts. This also democratizes the process of workflow management, enabling non-technical users to design and implement workflows without extensive programming knowledge.

5. Reporting and Analytics

A comprehensive vulnerability management workflow tool should simplify key performance metric tracking. Metrics like open vs. closed findings, SLA compliance, and ticket status per team are basic requirements. This data should be easily accessible and sharable in the form of reports for informed decision-making.

6. Collaboration Features

Features that facilitate sharing and updating information help bridge silos within an organization, enhancing cooperation and efficiency. Collaboration features ensure that everyone is on the same page and can contribute effectively to the workflow.

Automate Vulnerability Management Workflows with Seemplicity

Seemplicity’s Remediation Operations platform streamlines and automates vulnerability management workflows across cloud, code and infrastructure domains to deliver accelerated risk reduction. The platform offers intelligent data-driven insights and no-code automation, empowering security teams to determine the who, what, where and how of remediation with  confidence and ease. By eliminating the manual overhead and the “fix-by-fix basis” approach, Seemplicity speeds up the remediation process to ensure organizations can meet their risk reduction and compliance targets.

Learn more about Seemplicity today.

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