You have been working hard for the past few weeks or months on the latest round of features for your flagship product. You are excited. The team is excited. Then a security test identifies a vulnerability. Balloons deflate and everyone starts to scramble.
Take a breath.
Not all vulnerabilities are created equal and the risk that each presents is vastly different. The organization should already have a process for triaging security findings. That process should be assessing the risk of the finding to determine its impact on the application, organization, and your customers. Some of these flaws will need immediate attention. Some may require holding up the release. Some may pose a lower risk and can wait.
Take the time to analyze the situation.
If an item is severe and poses great risk, by all means, stop what you are doing and fix it. But, what happens when the risk is fairly low. When I say risk, I include in that the ability for it to be exploited. The difficulty to exploit can be a critical factor in what decision you make.
When does the risk of remediation override the risk of waiting until the next iteration?
There are some instances where the risk to remediate so late in the iteration may actually be higher than waiting until the next iteration to resolve the actual issue. But all security vulnerabilities need to be fixed, you say? This is not an attempt to get out of doing work or not resolve issues. However, I believe there are situations where the risk of the exploit is less than the risk of trying to fix it in a chaotic, last minute manner.
I can’t count the number of times I have seen issues arise that appeared to be simple fixes. The bug was not very serious and could only be exploited in a very limited way. For example, the bug required the user’s machine to be compromised to enable exploitation. The fix, however, ended up taking more than a week due to some complications. When the bug appeared 2 days before code freeze there were many discussions on performing a fix, and potentially holding up the release, and moving the remediation to the next iteration.
When we take the time to analyze the risk and exposure of the finding, it is possible to make an educated decision as to which risk is better for the organization and the customers. In this situation, the assumption is that the user’s system would need to be compromised for the exploit to happen. If that is true, the application is already vulnerable to password sniffing or other attacks that would make this specific exploit a waste of time.
Forcing a fix at this point in the game increases the chances of introducing another vulnerability, possibly more severe than the one that we are trying to fix. Was that risk worth it?
Timing can have an affect on our judgement when it comes to resolving security issues. It should not be used as an escape goat or reason not to fix things. When analyzing the risk of an item, make sure you are also considering how that may affect the environment as a whole. This risk may not be directly with the flaw, but indirectly due to how it is fixed. There is no hard and fast rule, exactly the reason why we use a risk based approach.
Engage your information security office or enterprise risk teams to help with the analysis. They may be able to provide a different point of view or insight you may have overlooked.
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