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Can one change dramatically improve the efficiency of your IT operations?

security
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Song_about_summer)

Cybersecurity teams are famous for being overstretched and under-supported. Their mandate -- protect a company's most valuable assets -- is of the utmost importance. Yet this mandate also has to co-exist with the reality that organizations have a finite number of resources.

This is why operational efficiency is such a critical objective. Doing more with less -- and getting the most out of your supporting security tools -- can help teams reach the ultimate goal of continuously maintaining the highest possible security posture.

A lofty goal, to be sure. It is also a goal that almost any IT team can realize, as long as they have the right strategies and the right mix of products in place.

With that in mind, let's explore the single change you can make right now that will help overstretched security teams operate more efficiently and effectively.

An untenable status quo 

IT departments have been overworked and understaffed for as long as most of us can remember. Unless you’re working at the very largest and most richly resourced organizations, being overstretched is almost an expectation -- an immutable feature of the job.

However, the busy workers of a decade ago had it relatively easy by comparison. Demands on IT workers -- and cybersecurity teams in particular -- have been dramatically accelerated by the demands of digital transformation/cloud migration.

The push toward comprehensive digitalization has placed businesses under pressure to do even more with less in the realm of information security. Managing risk from phishing attacks and malware was one thing; dealing with these same threats while also trying to manage the vulnerabilities that arise as organizations increasingly shift toward highly dynamic hybrid environments is a far larger task.

As a result of this situation, one ever-present aspect of working in IT monitoring is the deluge of alerts. False alarms are a major source of alert fatigue, as workers become desensitized and miss the critical issue when it finally arises. The key to avoiding such scenarios is to maintain a manageable environment and have the right methodology in place to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

False alarms -- important as they are -- do not represent the biggest threat to IT operational efficiency. The culprit here is ineffective prioritization, which affects an organization on myriad levels. One of the most dramatic of these impacts is felt on overall efficiency levels.

As mentioned above, time is a precious commodity. Wasting hours researching and patching vulnerabilities that pose little true risk to your business-critical assets is a terrible misallocation of resources. It is also a morale crusher -- who wants to devote so much time and effort to activities that ultimately undermine the mandate security teams are given?

Sadly, this is the status quo within too many SOCs. Instead of being able to prioritize issues according to the things that truly matter (criticality and risk), defenders are working with imperfect scanning tools and disconnected lists -- and only seeing a small percentage of the overall picture. As a result, teams are operating with imperfect information and getting bogged down in needless activity that often not only adds no value, but actively harms an organization’s security posture.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way.

So how do we fix this? 

To maintain strong cybersecurity, organizations need to do three things: 

  • Know where they are exposed 
  • Know how to prioritize addressing those exposures 
  • Understand the best way to reduce such exposures over time.

The key to the first problem (exposure visibility) is having the ability to continuously scan your security environments for security gaps. Because these environments are highly complex and dynamic, such scanning needs to be automated -- otherwise you won't have the deep visibility necessary to identify the vulnerabilities that often arise from seemingly small changes. 

Proper prioritization requires understanding critical risk context. It's not enough to know how severe a vulnerability is; you also need to understand how likely it is to be exploited and the risk it poses to your business-sensitive assets. Without this information IT operational efficiency is simply impossible, as teams will waste valuable time focusing on low-risk exposures, while the more serious security gaps sit unresolved. 

Mastering the challenges associated with exposure identification and prioritization, and it becomes possible to minimize future exposures by creating a resilient security posture based on the principle of continuous improvement.

Easier said than done, right? That's true, but there is a single change you can make this objective a reality: Deploy risk-based vulnerability management technology that features advanced attack modeling and exposure prioritization based on criticality.

The benefits of an attack-centric exposure prioritization platform 

Attack-centric exposure prioritization platforms work by simulating continuous attacks against your defenses. Instead of simply showing you where you are vulnerable, their attack modeling capabilities show how those exposures are likely to be exploited. You can see your defenses through the eyes of an attacker.

This means you have deep, ongoing visibility into where you are vulnerable -- and you also understand the risk associated with each exposure. Not every vulnerability is likely to be exploited, and not every vulnerability poses risk to sensitive assets. 

This is critical, because it allows you to eliminate 99 percent of the risk to business-critical systems by focusing on the 1 percent of exposures that can be exploited. Instead of taking a scattershot approach to prioritization, this technology allows you to operate with a laser-like focus on the exposures that really matter. Not only is this better for security; it is vastly more efficient.

Finding the right prioritization solution means identifying the platforms with the core features that align with the objectives we have outlined above. In short, the right product should include the following:

  • Continuous and automated operation
  • Ability to safely run in production environments
  • Prioritization based on business-critical assets and attack path simulation
  • Chokepoint identification
  • Context-sensitive least-effort remediation

The takeaway  

Efficiency and good security go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, inefficiency is the status quo for too many organizations. There is help, however. 

Integrating the right attack-centric, risk prioritization platform into your existing security tools can help your teams operate more efficiently and effectively. It is, perhaps, the single most impactful change you can make in terms of protecting your most critical assets.

Raz Kotler, VP customer operations and CISO, XM Cyber