Jun 12, 2023

Basics of Risk Based Prioritization

by Brinqa Security Team



Risk based prioritization of vulnerabilities is a cybersecurity strategy in which discovered vulnerabilities are prioritized for remediation according to the risk they pose to an organization.

A vulnerability is a weakness or flaw in software or systems that attackers can exploit to compromise data and services. Not all vulnerabilities, however, are equally dangerous or urgent. Some pose a higher risk than others, depending on factors such as severity, exploitability, exposure and impact on the business. Compensating or mitigating controls an organization has already implemented also must be considered before a vulnerability can be labeled high or low risk.

According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), threat actors can exploit a vulnerability within 15 days of discovery. Then, there is also the alarming number of vulnerabilities discovered by scanners that organizations must contend with. The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) published 25,101 vulnerabilities in 2022, showing an increase in vulnerabilities discovered year-over-year. 

The urgency of remediating high-risk vulnerabilities and the number of total vulnerabilities that security professionals must address make vulnerability prioritization efforts necessary. However, effectively preventing breaches and attacks requires prioritization tailored to the potential risk a vulnerability poses to a specific business environment and context.

Why do you need to prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk?

The need for risk based prioritization of vulnerabilities is due to the inherent complexity and diversity of organizations, their assets, and attack surfaces. Organizations also are subject to various regulatory and compliance requirements, depending on their industry, location and the type of data they handle. A one-size-fits-all approach to prioritization may not address these requirements effectively, potentially exposing organizations to security and financial risks.

Legacy approaches to vulnerability management often rely on static metrics such as the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to prioritize remediation efforts. CVSS scores, while useful, may not always provide a comprehensive view of an organization’s specific risk exposure. A high CVSS score does not necessarily translate into a high level of risk for a given organization, particularly if the vulnerable asset is not mission-critical or compensating controls are in place.

Traditional methods also often result in an overwhelming backlog of vulnerabilities that increase overhead costs associated with vulnerability management and cripple security teams’ ability to respond effectively. According to Edgescan, the mean time to remediation (MTTR) for vulnerabilities across the full technology stack is 57.5 days. Given the mounting complexity and volume of cyberthreats, organizations must adopt a risk based prioritization approach to reduce the MTTR while also efficiently allocating their limited resources. 

To better understand why cybersecurity planning should be risk-centric, read our ebook.   

What are the benefits of a risk based approach to vulnerability management?

For enterprise cybersecurity, risk based prioritization has the following benefits: 

  • Enhanced understanding of asset inventory and attack surface: A risk based prioritization strategy requires a thorough understanding of an organization’s digital assets and associated vulnerabilities. This information enables security teams to understand their attack surface, identify potential gaps in their cyber posture, prioritize their most valuable assets and develop targeted remediation plans.
  • Reduced exploitable attack surface: According to Trend Micro, 73% of organizations expressed concern about the size of their attack surface. A risk based prioritization strategy can address these concerns and reduce the overall risk profile by targeting vulnerabilities that pose the greatest threat to an organization’s assets and operations.
  • Optimized resource allocation: By streamlining their efforts and focusing only on the most pressing issues, security teams can use their time and resources more effectively, improving productivity and cost savings.
  • Improved communication among stakeholders: Adopting a risk based approach to vulnerability management fosters better communication and collaboration among stakeholders, including security teams, IT departments, developers, and executive leadership. Organizations gain a clear and quantifiable picture of their risk exposure, enabling them to make informed decisions and align cybersecurity strategies with business objectives.

How to implement risk based vulnerability prioritization

The following cybersecurity best practices provide a roadmap for implementing a risk based vulnerability prioritization program: 

  • Discover all assets and vulnerabilities across your environment: A comprehensive vulnerability management program must account for all elements of an organization’s infrastructure, including cloud, on-premises and application assets. These assets add to your attack surface and may have potentially business-disrupting vulnerabilities associated with them. Continuous vulnerability scanning and maintaining an up-to-date asset inventory ensure no critical vulnerabilities are overlooked.
  • Analyze vulnerability data from multiple sources: Leverage data from various sources, such as vulnerability scanners, threat intelligence feeds, and industry reports, to gain a deeper understanding of your organization’s risk exposure. To level up their VM program, security teams also must pay attention to vulnerability information not associated with a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) identifier. 
  • Configure custom risk scores: Implement a methodology that considers factors such as vulnerability severity, asset criticality, the likelihood of exploitation, and potential impact on your organization’s operations. Integrating business context with threat intelligence by understanding the relationships between assets, findings, and business impact is key to enterprise vulnerability risk management. 
  • Monitor changes in risk over time: The threat landscape constantly evolves, and your prioritization strategy must keep pace. In addition, monitoring enables you to identify suspicious patterns, measure the effectiveness of your VM program and optimize accordingly. 
  • Generate reports and dashboards for visibility: To improve security posture, create comprehensive reports and dashboards that provide continuous visibility into your organization’s vulnerability management efforts for both technical and non-technical stakeholders. These dashboards should have the granularity that security teams need to fix issues while providing business stakeholders with a perspective that enables them to make informed decisions.  

The following table illustrates these steps and best practices:

Steps to risk based prioritizationImplementation and best practices
Asset discovery and vulnerability scanningMaintain an up-to-date asset inventory and continuously scan for vulnerabilities.
Data collectionUnify findings from multiple tools and examine non-CVE data as well.
Risk scoring and prioritizationConsider severity, asset importance, exploitability, exposure, and business context.
MonitoringMonitor continuously and use findings to optimize your VM program.
ReportingMaintain transparency and accountability. Customize dashboards and reports according to the needs of various stakeholders.

Apply enterprise risk based vulnerability management across your attack surface with Brinqa

Brinqa Attack Surface Intelligence Platform is a comprehensive cybersecurity solution that simplifies enterprise risk based vulnerability management and the entire cyber risk lifecycle. The platform offers a sophisticated solution that seamlessly unifies security data from various sources, contextualizes it with business structure and threat intelligence information and facilitates effective vulnerability remediation.

At the heart of the Brinqa platform is the Cyber Risk Graph, which enables organizations to visualize and analyze their entire attack surface. Flexible querying capabilities empower your team to perform ad-hoc analysis and access current and historical risk data to identify trends. 

Brinqa’s risk scoring engine allows for applying out-of-the-box and custom risk factors, providing a personalized and context-aware approach to risk based prioritization. The platform is transparent about the underlying security risk context that informs each score. Finally, remediation efforts are streamlined through automated ticketing and integration with popular IT service management (ITSM) tools.

Experience the power of the Brinqa platform. Talk to one of our experts about your specific needs.


Frequently asked questions

What is the best prioritization method for vulnerabilities?

The most effective prioritization method for vulnerabilities is the risk based prioritization approach. This method considers various factors, including vulnerability severity and business context, allowing organizations to target vulnerabilities that pose the greatest threat to their specific environment.

What are the essential components of risk based prioritization?

The key components of a successful risk based prioritization strategy include:

  • Consolidation: Create an inventory of assets and vulnerabilities. 
  • Contextualization: Enrich technical data with business context.
  • Analysis: Implement custom risk scoring and prioritization models.
  • Remediation: Automatically create and assign tickets for manual remediation.
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