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ServiceNow Research Uncovers Security’s Patching Paradox

April 2018 by ServiceNow

ServiceNow, Inc. released new research, “Today’s State of Vulnerability Response: Patch Work Demands Attention,” based on a survey conducted with the Ponemon Institute. The report uncovered security’s “patching paradox” – hiring more people does not equal better security. While security teams plan to hire more staffing resources for vulnerability response – and may need to do so – they won’t improve their security posture if they don’t fix broken patching processes.

Firms struggle with patching because they use manual processes and can’t prioritise what needs to be patched first. The study found that efficient vulnerability response processes are critical because timely patching is the most successful tactic companies employed in avoiding security breaches.

ServiceNow surveyed nearly 3,000 security professionals in nine countries, including 369 in France, to understand the effectiveness of their vulnerability response tools and processes. Vulnerability response is the process companies use to prioritise and remediate flaws in software that could serve as attack vectors.

“Adding more talent alone won’t address the core issue plaguing today’s security teams,” said Matthieu De Montvallon, Directeur Technique chez ServiceNow France. “Automating routine processes and prioritising vulnerabilities will help organisations avoid the ‘patching paradox,’ instead focusing their people on critical work to dramatically reduce the likelihood of a breach.”

Firms plan to invest in additional staff for vulnerability response

Cybersecurity teams already dedicate a significant proportion of their resources to patching. That number is set to rise:
• French organisations spend 315 hours a week on average (compared with 321 hours globally) – the equivalent of about eight full-time employees – managing the vulnerability response process.
• 66% of French respondents say they plan to hire more dedicated resources for patching over the next 12 months.
• On average, the French respondents surveyed plan to hire about 3.6 people dedicated to vulnerability response – an increase of 46% over today’s staffing levels.

Hiring won’t solve the problem: teams struggle with broken processes

Adding cybersecurity talent may not be possible. According to ISACA, a global non-profit IT advocacy group, the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals will reach 2 million by 2019. The study found that hiring won’t solve the vulnerability response challenges facing French organisations, with the results of the respondents from France revealing that:
• 56% say that they spend more time navigating manual processes than responding to vulnerabilities.
• French security teams lost an average of 13.2 days manually coordinating patching activities across teams.
• 55% say they find it difficult to prioritise what needs to be patched first (compared to 65% globally).
• 64% say that manual processes put them at a disadvantage when patching vulnerabilities.
• 54% say that hackers are outpacing organisations with technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
• Cyberattack volume increased by 17.2% last year, and severity increased by 24%.

“Most data breaches occur because of a failure to patch, yet many organisations struggle with the basic hygiene of patching,” Matthieu De Montvallon said. “Attackers are armed with the most innovative technologies, and security teams will remain at a disadvantage if they don’t change their approach.”

Quickly detecting and patching vulnerabilities significantly reduces breach risk

Organisations that were breached struggle with vulnerability response processes compared with those organisations that weren’t breached:
• 47% of French organisations have experienced a data breach in the last two years, compared to 48% globally.
• Almost half (44%) of French breach victims said that they were breached because of a vulnerability for which a patch was already available (compared to 57% globally).
• 30% of French security professionals were actually aware that they were vulnerable before they were breached.
• French organisations that avoided breaches rated themselves 29% higher on the ability to patch quickly (compared to 41% globally) than organisations that had been breached.
• 42% of breach victims said they don’t scan for vulnerabilities.

“If you’re at sea taking on water, extra hands are helpful to bail,” Matthieu De Montvallon said. “The study shows most organisations are looking for bailers and buckets instead of identifying the size and severity of the leak.”

Broken processes can be overcome

Here are five key recommendations that provide organisations with a pragmatic roadmap to improve security posture:
• Take an unbiased inventory of vulnerability response capabilities.
• Accelerate time-to-benefit by tackling low-hanging fruit first.
• Regain time lost coordinating by breaking down data barriers between security and IT.
• Define and optimise end-to-end vulnerability response processes, and then automate as much as you can.
• Retain talent by focusing on culture and environment.

Survey Methodology ServiceNow commissioned the Ponemon Institute to survey nearly 3,000 IT security professionals. Respondents are based in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and represent organisations with more than 1,000 employees. The survey was administered online. Founded in 2002, the Ponemon Institute is a research center specialising in privacy, data protection, and information security policy.

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