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Data Operations


The diagram below shows two kinds of data emanating from the Data Operations process: Vulnerability Data and Environment Data. Vulnerability Data is data about the vulnerability itself, such as the technical impact or exploit availability. Environment Data is data about the environment in which the vulnerable systems exist, such as network topology or system criticality. We generally expect that Environment Data will be more stable than Vulnerability Data, but that is not always the case.

While the actual collection of operational data is outside the scope of SSVC, it is an important part of any implementation of the process. SSVC is designed to be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of data collection methods. The Data Mapping step defines the data that is needed to assign a value to each decision point. The Data Operations process collects that data so that it can be used to assign values to decision points in the Use SSVC step.

We include a feedback loop on the data collection node to indicate that it is expected to be a continuous process.

flowchart LR
    subgraph dmp[Data Mapping]
       dd[/Data Definition/]
    subgraph do[Data Operations]
        cd[Collect Data]
        vd[/Vulnerability Data/]
        ed[/Environment Data/]
        dt[\Available Data/]
    dd --> cd
    cd --> cd
    cd --> vd
    cd --> ed
    vd --> dt
    ed --> dt


Having defined a data map that translates certain values from specific threat feeds to the Exploitation decision point values PoC or Active, an organization maintains a subscription to those threat feeds and collects the data from them on a continuous basis. They also write a script that parses the data from the threat feeds and applies the data map to assign a value to the Exploitation decision point.

Guidance for Evidence Gathering

To answer each of these decision points, a stakeholder should, as much as possible, have a repeatable evidence collection and evaluation process. However, we are proposing decisions for humans to make, so evidence collection and evaluation is not totally automatable. That caveat notwithstanding, some automation is possible.

Evidence of Exploitation

For example, whether exploitation modules are available in ExploitDB, Metasploit, or other sources is straightforward. We hypothesize that searching Github and Pastebin for exploit code can be captured in a script. A supplier or deployer could then define Exploitation to take the value of PoC if there are positive search results for a set of inputs derived from the CVE entry in at least one of these venues. At least, for those vulnerabilities that are not “automatically” PoC-ready, such as on-path attackers for TLS or network replays.

Some of the decision points require a substantial upfront analysis effort to gather risk assessment or organizational data. However, once gathered, this information can be efficiently reused across many vulnerabilities and only refreshed occasionally.

Evidence of Mission Impact

An obvious example of this is the Mission Impact decision point. To answer this, a deployer must analyze their Mission Essential Functions (MEFs), how they interrelate, and how they are supported.

Evidence of System Exposure

System Exposure is similar; answering that decision point requires an asset inventory, adequate understanding of the network topology, and a view of the enforced security controls. Independently operated scans, such as Shodan or Shadowserver, may play a role in evaluating exposure, but the entire exposure question cannot be reduced to a binary question of whether an organization’s assets appear in such databases.

Once the deployer has the situational awareness to understand their Mission Essential Functions or System Exposure, selecting the answer for each individual vulnerability is usually straightforward.

Stakeholders who use the prioritization method should consider releasing the priority with which they handled the vulnerability. This disclosure has various benefits. For example, if the supplier publishes a priority ranking, then deployers could consider that in their decision-making process. One reasonable way to include it is to break ties for the deployer. If a deployer has three “scheduled” vulnerabilities to remediate, they may address them in any order. If two vulnerabilities were produced by the supplier as “scheduled” patches, and one was “out-of-cycle,” then the deployer may want to use that information to favor the latter.

Suggested Default Values

In the case where no information is available or the organization has not yet matured its initial situational analysis, we can suggest something like defaults for some decision points.

Default Exploitation Values

Exploitation needs no special default; if adequate searches are made for exploit code and none is found, the answer is none.

Default System Exposure Values

If the deployer does not know their exposure, that means they do not know where the devices are or how they are controlled, so they should assume System Exposure is open.

Default Automatable Values

If nothing is known about Automatable, the safer answer to assume is yes. Value Density should always be answerable; if the product is uncommon, it is probably diffuse.

Default Safety Values

If the decision maker knows nothing about the environment in which the device is used, we suggest assuming a marginal Safety Impact. This position is conservative, but software is thoroughly embedded in daily life now, so we suggest that the decision maker provide evidence that no one’s well-being will suffer.

Default Mission Impact Values

Similarly, with Mission Impact, the deployer should assume that the software is in use at the organization for a reason, and that it supports essential functions unless they have evidence otherwise. With a total lack of information, assume support crippled as a default.

Using Defaults

Applying these defaults to the deployer decision model

  • Exploitation: none
  • System Exposure: open
  • Automatable: yes
  • Human Impact: medium (combination of Safety and Mission Impacts)
    • Safety Impact: marginal
    • Mission Impact: support crippled

results in a scheduled patch application.