CVE and Cloud Services, Part 2: Impacts on Cloud Vulnerability and Risk Management

By Victor Chin, Research Analyst, Cloud Security Alliance, and Kurt Seifried, Director of IT, Cloud Security Alliance

Internet Cloud server cabinet

This is the second post in a series, where we’ll discuss cloud service vulnerability and risk management trends in relation to the Common Vulnerability and Exposures (CVE) system. In the first blog post, we wrote about the Inclusion Rule 3 (INC3) and how it affects the counting of cloud service vulnerabilities. Here, we will delve deeper into how the exclusion of cloud service vulnerabilities impacts enterprise vulnerability and risk management.

 

Traditional vulnerability and risk management

CVE identifiers are the linchpin of traditional vulnerability management processes. Besides being an identifier for vulnerabilities, the CVE system allows different services and business processes to interoperate, making enterprise IT environments more secure. For example, a network vulnerability scanner can identify whether a vulnerability (e.g. CVE-2018-1234) is present in a deployed system by querying said system.

The queries can be conducted in many ways, such as via a banner grab, querying the system for what software is installed, or even via proof of concept exploits that have been de-weaponized. Such queries confirm the existence of the vulnerability, after which risk management and vulnerability remediation can take place.

Once the existence of the vulnerability is confirmed, enterprises must conduct risk management activities. Enterprises might first prioritize vulnerability remediation according to the criticality of the vulnerabilities. The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) is one way on which the triaging of vulnerabilities is based. The system gives each vulnerability a score according to how critical it is, and from there enterprises can prioritize and remediate the more critical ones. Like other vulnerability information, CVSS scores are normally associated to CVE IDs.

Next, mitigating actions can be taken to remediate the vulnerabilities. This could refer to implementing patches, workarounds, or applying security controls. How the organization chooses to address the vulnerability is an exercise of risk management. They have to carefully balance their resources in relation to their risk appetite. But generally, organizations choose risk avoidance/rejection, risk acceptance, or risk mitigation.

Risk avoidance and rejection is fairly straightforward. Here, the organization doesn’t want to mitigate the vulnerability. At the same time, based on information available, the organization determines that the risk the vulnerability poses is above their risk threshold, and they stop using the vulnerable software.

Risk acceptance refers to when the organization, based on information available, determines that the risk posed is below their risk threshold and decides to accept the risk.

Lastly, in risk mitigation, the organization chooses to take mitigating actions and implement security controls that will reduce the risk. In traditional environments, such mitigating actions are possible because the organization generally owns and controls the infrastructure that provisions the IT service. For example, to mitigate a vulnerability, organizations are able to implement firewalls, intrusion detection systems, conduct system hardening activities, deactivate a service, change the configuration of a service, and many other options.

Thus, in traditional IT environments, organizations are able to take many mitigating actions because they own and control the stack. Furthermore, organizations have access to vulnerability information with which to make informed risk management decisions.

Cloud service customer challenges

Compared to traditional IT environments, the situation is markedly different for external cloud environments. The differences all stem from organizations not owning and controlling the infrastructure that provisions the cloud service, as well as not having access to vulnerability data of cloud native services.

Enterprise users don’t have ready access to cloud native vulnerabilities because there is no way to officially associate the data to cloud native vulnerabilities as CVE IDs are not generally assigned to them. Consequently, it’s difficult for enterprises to make an informed, risk-based decision regarding a vulnerable cloud service. For example, when should an enterprise customer reject the risk and stop using the service or accept the risk and continue using the service.

Furthermore, even if CVE IDs are assigned to cloud native vulnerabilities, the differences between traditional and cloud environments are so vast that vulnerability data which is normally associated to a CVE in a traditional environment is inadequate when dealing with cloud service vulnerabilities. For example, in a traditional IT environment, CVEs are linked to the version of a software. An enterprise customer can verify that a vulnerable version of a software is running by checking the software version. In cloud services, the versioning of the software (if there is one!) is usually only known to the cloud service provider and is not made public. Additionally, the enterprise user is unable to apply security controls or other mitigations to address the risk of a vulnerability.

This is not saying that CVEs and the associated vulnerability data are useless for cloud services. Instead, we should consider including vulnerability data that is useful in the context of a cloud service. In particular, cloud service vulnerability data should help enterprise cloud customers make the important risk-based decision of when to continue or stop using the service.

Thus, just as enterprise customers must trust cloud service providers with their sensitive data, they must also trust, blindly, that the cloud service providers are properly remediating the vulnerabilities in their environment in a timely manner.

The CVE gap

With the increasing global adoption and proliferation of cloud services, the exclusion of service vulnerabilities from the CVE system and the impacts of said exclusion have left a growing gap that the cloud services industry should address. This gap not only impacts enterprise vulnerability and risk management but also other key stakeholders in the cloud services industry.

In the next post, we’ll explore how other key stakeholders are affected by the shortcomings of cloud service vulnerability management.

Please let us know what you think about the INC3’s impacts on cloud service vulnerability and risk management in the comment section below, or you can also email us.

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