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Vulnerabilities / Threats

6/21/2013
07:20 AM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
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Analyzing Vulnerabilities In Business-Critical Applications

Fears of downtime and broken apps complicate the vulnerability scanning process. Here are some tips to help

[The following is excerpted from "Analyzing Vulnerabilities In Business-Critical Applications," a new report posted this week on Dark Reading's Vulnerability Management Tech Center.]

There are two primary reasons the process of scanning and patching critical systems gets shot down by management. The first is that security teams are very often seen as the bad guys who make it harder for the rest of the organization to conduct day-to-day business.

The second reason is closely tied to the first: Security is not typically at the top of C-level executives' list of priorities. Making the case to management and other groups for regular scanning and patching is easily undermined by the security department's image as a bunch of heavy-handed control freaks who want to disable everything.

The reputation of the security team within an organization affects many things -- especially when it comes to interacting with the systems responsible for making the business run and, ultimately, profit.

In the past, it has often taken a breach for a company to sit up and realize it should have been focusing more on security all along. The attitudes toward security and its importance are changing, fortunately, but to be successful, security needs to put down the big stick it has been trying to use to further its agenda. Security departments need to open up the channels of communication and work much more closely with the operations team and stakeholders responsible for mission-critical applications.

These efforts should focus on understanding the concerns of business, the ins and outs of the systems in question, and the impact that vulnerability scanning and patching can have.

Sounds easy, right? It isn't. Security teams need to understand more fully the target systems they want to test. There's much more involved than simply running a vulnerability scanner like Nessus or Nexpose, finding that patches are missing, and then telling the asset owners they need to get those patches installed or they'll be hacked.

These mission-critical applications and services are likely to be unsupported due to customization during implementation. And Web applications may contain deep logic flaws that scanners are unable to detect. In addition, there may be certain times of the day, month or even year when these systems are even more critical to the organization and when there's even less tolerance for the chance of downtime.

"Folks sometimes forget that if you are testing an app, you need to check for specific blackout dates or windows that might occur on certain days where especially sensitive transactions occur, like end-of-the-month payroll on an accounting system," says Vinnie Liu, managing partner for security consulting firm Stach & Liu. "It's an easy one to overlook because most people just focus [testing] either during business hours or off-business hours."

Starting a conversation about vulnerability scanning is the first step in bridging the gap between security and the rest of the business.

It's important for security professionals to be very clear about why vulnerability scanning is needed and what the process involves. Indeed, the discussion between security pros and business stakeholders should include an explanation of what takes place from the beginning to the end so there are no questions.

This is an opportunity for security to educate operations management and application owners so that they understand the process and different methods that can be used during vulnerability discovery. Each side can discuss the potential issues that may come up and work together to make sure that scanning will have as little impact on services as possible.

To learn more steps in streamlining the vulnerability scanning process for critical applications, download the free report.

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