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Outstanding Product Security

How Attack Resistance Management can help PSIRTs

By Jason Chavarría | September 22, 2022 | Category: Philosophy

Software solutions vendors need their technology to be secure for their users. Period. When it's found not to be secure, they have to activate a reliable process that will allow them to fix the issues. More specifically, in this process, their Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) has to handle the reports, triage them, orchestrate remediation and address stakeholders through security advisories. On paper, this seems as straightforward as its end purpose. However, PSIRTs face several challenges that affect their prompt action. We will highlight these challenges and how Attack Resistance Management (ARM), a continuous process to map the attack surface, assess manually its resistance to attacks and increase it, can help.

What is PSIRT?

For the sake of clarity, let's kick off this blog post by stating what PSIRTs are. As the name suggests, PSIRTs are teams created in organizations to respond to, and sometimes find, threats and flaws in their products. Thus, their role is different from that of Computer Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs). The latter initiate actions to assess security in their organization's systems and fix the issues they detect.

With the sponsorship of executive leadership, PSIRTs create policies on how to manage vulnerabilities reported in their products by inside or outside sources. This legitimization enables the team to orchestrate actions to require constant vulnerability remediation and engage the communications, sales, support and legal teams in the efforts of security assurance.

What is Attack Resistance Management?

Also for the sake of clarity, let's define Attack Resistance Management. We're talking about a solution that addresses the shortcomings in the cybersecurity of organizations in regard to knowledge about the entirety of their digital assets and attack surface, security testing frequency, accuracy to perform such tests and skill of the dev and sec teams.

Accordingly, ARM involves the continuous performance of manual security tests of the entire attack surface to determine its risk exposure and resistance to attacks. Throughout this process, remediation is made as soon as possible with the technical support of ethical hackers, and the organizations' staff members continuously improve their secure development practices.

How ARM benefits PSIRTs in vulnerability discovery

The very basic level of operational maturity of a PSIRT requires it to set the channels and the manner in which it will receive reports of vulnerabilities in its organization's products. (We've talked about this more extensively here.) Make no mistake: reports do come in. How many and from what sources? The answer to both can be "So many!" Also, these reports could be talking about a vulnerability in one or several previous product versions. It might even have been already fixed by the time the PSIRT receives the report. To top it all off, if report sources do not use a standard, machine-readable format to communicate vulnerabilities (e.g., OASIS SARIF), the team has to spend more time analyzing the cases.

Having no ARM implemented can make for a chaotic scenario in which the progress of the PSIRT in vulnerability discovery is slowed down. When ARM is in the house, it boosts the team's operational maturity. In this area, this maturity is reflected in the following:

  • The entire attack surface of the organization's products (e.g., web, cloud-based and mobile apps, IoT devices, email servers) is known and monitored constantly as the software evolves.

  • Vulnerabilities are sought after constantly and proactively from the start of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), instead of in a reactive fashion. That is, the organization does not have to wait for outside researchers, PSIRTs, etc., to find them. This constant security testing allows for opportunities to play out "what if" scenarios.

  • Third-party and open-source software is constantly inventoried in a software bill of materials (SBOM) and monitored for security advisories.

  • Vulnerability history (e.g., location, author, report date, status) is recorded in its entirety.

  • Enough information is available to generate reports to measure the success of the team with metrics such as discovered vulnerabilities (and corresponding risk exposure) and response time.

The result is that PSIRTs implementing ARM are able to determine more quickly whether the vulnerabilities reported by outside sources had already been identified. If so, these teams can easily look up when the vulnerabilities were created and what versions of the technology they affect. Also, it's easier for them to find out whether the affected systems and versions have been patched.

How ARM benefits PSIRTs in vulnerability triage

A further challenge for PSIRTs is to triage vulnerabilities. This involves determining the validity of the report. At the basic level, these teams need to establish what is considered a vulnerability, how vulnerabilities should be prioritized and how capable their staff is of understanding the way the issue works.

Without ARM, it is way more difficult to know whether the reported issues can be reproduced in the vendor's environment. Moreover, a (possibly) lower technical expertise, or use of automated tools only, makes it challenging to accurately define whether the report is not a false positive and, if proven not to be, what level of risk the vulnerability represents. Besides, as attack simulations are not constantly performed, meaning teams spend less time triaging and analyzing vulnerabilities, prioritization standards are learned more slowly.

Optimal ARM guarantees PSIRTs the following in regard to triage and analysis:

  • Highly certified ethical hackers probe the system for complex vulnerabilities and design exploits. Thus, these professionals' technical expertise allows for a more accurate qualification of vulnerabilities and their impact (e.g., corresponding risk exposure), as well as a faithful reproduction of them.

  • In line with the previous, ethical hackers provide knowledge to improve the vulnerability qualification criteria.

  • The constant, comprehensive security testing keeps the triage process oiled up, thus allowing time to gain knowledge about prioritization.

In short, ARM enables PSIRTs to more accurately validate, understand and reproduce vulnerabilities, thus achieving a more advanced maturity level.

How ARM benefits PSIRTs in vulnerability remediation

At a basic level, PSIRTs have to determine how to deal, if at all, with the risk accompanying confirmed vulnerabilities in their organizations' products. Remediation is harder when there is no ARM in place, as a proactive manual search for vulnerabilities and a strong remediation culture may not be established. Moreover, the staff's lack of expertise and no assistance from qualified hackers can result in a more challenging and error-prone remediation process.

These are some ways in which ARM can enhance the maturity of PSIRTs in regard to remediation:

  • Ethical hackers support the process with recommendations and guidance.

  • The team can orchestrate remediation early in the SDLC (i.e., prior to product release), and by doing so constantly they can achieve a strong remediation culture.

  • The constant, comprehensive reports of remediated risk exposure represented by vulnerabilities can help the organization learn how strong is their commitment towards security and whether it is providing a fix within the specified service-level agreement timeframes, among other success metrics.

At an advanced maturity level, through constant support of world-class ethical hackers over ARM, PSIRTs can quickly and effectively remediate vulnerabilities, early and throughout the entire SDLC. Furthermore, they can readily access relevant data to inform stakeholders how the security of the products is evolving.

Attack Resistance Management with Fluid Attacks

Fluid Attacks offers Attack Resistance Management as part of its Continuous Hacking solution. In it, Fluid Attacks' ethical hackers test the security of client organizations' products continuously throughout the SDLC. Clients manage each of their products' attack surface on Fluid Attacks' Attack Resistance Management platform (ARM), where the security testing results are readily available, showing exhaustive details, history and evidence of the vulnerabilities that are found. Through this platform, PSIRTs can assign the remediation of vulnerabilities to their staff and access helpful metrics on how well they're reducing risk exposure in their products. This platform also offers support options that connect PSIRTs with hackers who can help remediation with further details. And all that is just a bit of what the ARM offers.

Are you interested in securing your product with the best solution? Contact us. If you just want to explore Fluid Attacks' ARM, get the 21-day free trial of Continuous Hacking Machine Plan and see the results of automated security tests performed to assess your product, along with many of the functions described above.

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