Companies that focus on continuously testing their security through automated means and regular penetration testing roughly double the cost to attackers of finding exploitable vulnerabilities in their systems, according to data from security assessments and red-team engagements collected by crowdsourced security firm Synack.
The company found that the average number of times that a red-team member had to probe an asset to find a vulnerability more than doubled — increasing by 112% — on average over the past two years. In addition, the average severity of the vulnerabilities found by red-team members have decreased to a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) score of 5.95 in 2018, down from aa CVSS score of 6.41 in 2016.
The findings suggest that companies that incorporate security into their development and operations are succeeding in hardening their systems, says Anne-Marie Chun Witt, a director of product marketing at Synack.
"You are seeing fewer vulnerabilities and/or taking longer to find them," she says. "It is taking more effort to find them and they are having to find more complex stuff. So they [companies focused on security] can say they are increasing the costs for attackers."
The data underscores that security efforts do result in measurable improvement in the security posture of companies that undertake them. Overall, companies that automated security testing — conducting it on essentially a continuous basis — had a 43% higher measure of security using Synack's proprietary metric.
Most companies — 63% — remediated vulnerabilities in less than three months. Among the laggards were e-commerce companies, retailers, and state and local government and education.
"Some industries deserve honorable mentions for their proactive approach to security through testing for vulnerabilities, remediating them, and making the adjustments necessary to instill long-term, cultural changes to improve security posture," Synack stated in its report. "The results reflect that."
The crowdsourced security firm is not the only one to note the impact security can have on hardening against compromises and breaches. Earlier this month, bug-bounty management provider HackerOne calculated — albeit, self-servingly — that four large breaches, where vulnerability was the known vector of attack, could have been prevented by bounty programs in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Other research has shown the impact that security investment can have on the cost of cyberattacks. The annual "Cost of Cybercrime Study," conducted by the Ponemon Institute and most recently sponsored by Accenture, found that four main technologies can help reduce the costs associated with breaches: security intelligence and threat sharing; automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning; advanced identity and access management; and cyber and user behavior analytics.
"The main driver for the rise in containment costs is the increasing complexity and sophistication of cyberattacks," the report stated. "Another factor is the expansion of compliance and regulatory requirements."
A significant portion of the Synack report promotes the company's proprietary security metric — a single number that attempts to combine data on the theoretical cost to that attacker, the severity of vulnerabilities found by Synack's penetration testing teams, and how efficiently the company remediates vulnerabilities.
The manufacturing and critical-infrastructure industry has the highest median attacker resistance score — 69 on a scale of 100 — but bucks the trend of continuous testing leading to higher scores. While seven of the nine industries highlighted in the report had higher scores from continuous testing, both the manufacturing and healthcare industries only conducted discrete, point-in-time testing.
The higher security posture of manufacturing and critical infrastructure is more likely due to the serious adversaries the industry faces, Synack stated.
"The sector has had to adopt a more proactive approach to securing their infrastructure because the industry is a top target for attacks by governments and large entities or 'state actors,'" according to the report. "In turn, they are more mature in their testing than other industries."
While the technology industry is in the middle of the pack, the segment did have a much higher threshold of application security, resulting in a much higher average time to find a vulnerability, according to Synack.
"The longer the time to find a vulnerability, the higher the cost to the attacker and the less attractive the target," the company said in the report. "This is in line with other trends we've seen within the technology industry [and its] proactive approach to security."