Tracking and Reporting SLA Progress
Once the highest priority vulnerabilities are identified, operations team needs to take the appropriate action to effectively manage the risk. For each vulnerability, there are three response options — remediate, mitigate, or accept. Which action is chosen for each should be in line with what was previously determined during the initial discovery phase, as you developed a comprehensive understanding of the environment. But to be sure we’re clear on our terminology, here’s how we define each of them:
Oftentimes, remediation is used interchangeably with patching. And in some cases, patching may be all that’s required. Something important to note is that typically, applying a patch is just one part of what’s required to remediate a vulnerability. The asset may also require removal or rebuilding the operating system, specific software components may need to be upgraded, or there could be a configuration error that needs to be corrected. Once the vulnerability is verified to have been fully remediated, the amount of risk associated with the vulnerability is fully removed from the environment.
Mitigation employs other technologies to reduce the risk of a given vulnerability. This is different from remediation because with mitigation nothing has really been done to actually fix the vulnerability itself. Instead, organizations are accounting for other mitigating factors that neutralize some or all of the risk posed by the vulnerability. For example, organizations may have firewall rules in place that effectively block an exploit from accessing sensitive data. To account for this mitigating factor, organizations would reduce the severity of the vulnerability accordingly.
Risk acceptance is consciously deciding not to take any action at all. This may be done for a variety of reasons. For example, during the discovery phase, management may have determined some assets are so business-critical they can’t afford to take them down for maintenance unless the vulnerability is also business-critical. In other cases, the cost of the fix may be greater than the cost associated with a successful exploit. Regardless of the reason, when organizations choose to accept risk, the VM platform may allow you to remove the risk score from reports or set the score to “0." However, organizations need to understand that while the vulnerability may no longer be immediately visible, the actual risk still remains in your environment.
These actions should align with the organizational plans established during the discovery phase of the risk-based VM lifecycle when the business environment was mapped, along with IT policies, and procedures.