Get Management Buy-in with AppSec Metrics

Cenk Kalpakoğlu17 Oct 2023
Secure CodingDevSecOpsAppSec

Getting management to back your application security plans can be a tough sell. Metrics are vital because they help you understand how effective your initial cybersecurity measures are and how to turn them into measurable data that's easy for everyone to understand. This article will explore how to use metrics to get the support you need and make your application security programs more effective.

Why Metrics are the Cornerstone of Application Security

Metrics are the core foundation of measuring the success of your application security program. They give you the numbers to see how well your security measures work. Without them, you're flying blind.

Metrics provide a way to measure your program's effectiveness and are crucial for making informed decisions. They're the tools you need to see where you're doing well and where you need to step up your game.

Identifying Bottlenecks Through Metrics

Metrics helps you spot the weak links in your security chain. When you notice that it's taking too long to fix vulnerabilities, that's a sign you need to dig deeper. Metrics can show you exactly where things are getting stuck so you can fix those issues.

By identifying these bottlenecks, you can allocate your resources more effectively and efficiently, strengthening your entire security program.

Technical Bottleneck Identification

Identifying bottlenecks isn't just a managerial task. It requires technical depth. You can pinpoint specific stages in the CI/CD pipeline where vulnerabilities might be introduced or overlooked by analyzing commit histories, integration tests, or deployment logs.

Tools that offer insights into code changes, such as GitBlame, can be invaluable. Integrating these tools with your metrics dashboard gives you a real-time view of potential security choke points.

Making Data-Driven Decisions

Metrics offer the data you need to make informed and justifiable choices. They provide the evidence to back up your strategies and decisions.

This is crucial for getting buy-in from both your team and your leadership team. When you make data-driven decisions, you're improving security and building a stronger case for your initiatives.

Integrating Security Metrics with Data Platforms

Data analytics platforms such as Splunk or ELK Stack are common tools for modern organizations. They can help you monitor and optimize your business performance. By integrating your security metrics into these platforms, you will enhance your security posture and visibility for other stakeholders.

By feeding security metrics into these platforms, teams can set up real-time monitoring and alerts, providing immediate insights into potential security breaches or vulnerabilities.

This integration ensures that security isn't siloed but is part of the broader data-driven decision-making process.

Building Trust with Stakeholders

Consistent, reliable metrics can be a big help in building trust. When you can show real numbers that prove you're managing risks effectively, people are more likely to trust you.

And when people trust you, getting the resources and support you need to improve your security programs is much easier.

Threat Modeling and Metrics Alignment

Before diving deep into metrics, it's essential to understand the role of threat modeling. Threat modeling is a systematic approach to identifying potential security threats and designing countermeasures to mitigate them.

By aligning your threat modeling outcomes with metrics, you can prioritize the most relevant metrics. For instance, if threat modeling identifies SQL injection as a primary concern, metrics related to database access vulnerabilities should be at the forefront. This alignment ensures that your metrics are not just numbers tied directly to tangible security concerns.

Must-Have Metrics for Any Application Security Program

The Triage Percentage Metric

The Triage Percentage Metric reveals the proportion of identified vulnerabilities that have been evaluated within a given time frame. For instance, if you detected 100 vulnerabilities and assessed 80, your Triage Percentage is 80%.
This metric is essential because it showcases the responsiveness of your security process. Simply put, a higher percentage indicates a quicker reaction to potential threats, underscoring the agility of your security measures.

Automation in Vulnerability Triage

The triage percentage represents the proportion of newly detected vulnerabilities that have been evaluated and categorized in a specific time frame. It's a central metric indicating how promptly and efficiently vulnerabilities are addressed.

Automation plays a pivotal role in managing this metric effectively. Tools that automatically categorize vulnerabilities upon discovery can be highly impactful. Dashboards help teams monitor the triage process in real time, ensuring that they are aware of new vulnerabilities as they emerge and can address them promptly. This systematic approach ensures that no threat is left behind.

So, how do you interpret this metric in practice? Let's say your triage percentage is low. That's a potential red flag, signaling that you need to allocate more resources to the initial stages of your security process.

Conversely, a high triage percentage indicates that your team is effectively sorting through new vulnerabilities, allowing you to focus on remediation.

Vulnerability Burndown Chart

Understanding the Burndown Chart

The Vulnerability Burndown Chart is a measure of your security performance. It indicates how many vulnerabilities you have resolved and how many remain unresolved.

Interpreting this chart is simple: the lower the number of unresolved vulnerabilities, the stronger your defence is.

Technical Setup of a Vulnerability Burndown Chart

Setting up an effective vulnerability burndown chart requires integration with tools like Kondukto or GitHub Issues.

Teams can generate real-time burndown charts by tagging and tracking vulnerabilities in these platforms and then integrating them with visualization tools.

This setup provides a dynamic view of how vulnerabilities are addressed, ensuring that teams are always aware of their security posture.

Strategic Implications

If you observe that the number of unresolved vulnerabilities is growing, it's time to rethink your strategy.

You might need more staff, or your current tools must be updated to the task. This chart gives you the insights you need to make strategic adjustments.

Missed SLAs (Service Level Agreements)

Variability in SLA Calculations

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be tricky because different organizations measure them differently. Some start the clock when a vulnerability is discovered, while others start when the remediation process begins.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are essentially commitments between service providers and their clients or stakeholders about the level of service to be provided. These can vary significantly in detail and scope depending on the organization and the nature of the service.

Knowing how your organization calculates SLAs is paramount. For example, some organizations might start the SLA timer when a vulnerability is first detected, while others might begin once the remediation process has been initiated. Understanding this distinction ensures that your security team is aligned with organizational expectations, reducing the risk of missing key deadlines.

To set realistic goals and adhere to best practices, it's beneficial to refer to industry standards. The ITIL framework (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) offers guidelines on SLA formulation and management.
Furthermore, organizations like ISACA and SANS Institute often provide insights and training on IT governance and SLA best practices.

Technical Nuances of SLA Calculations

SLA tracking reflects the remediation process's efficiency. Integrating SLA tracking directly into issue tracking systems will keep the status of vulnerabilities up to date as they move through the remediation process.

This integration ensures that teams are always aware of how quickly vulnerabilities are being addressed, allowing for timely interventions when needed.

Remediation Metrics

Remediation isn't just about fixing vulnerabilities. It's about doing it promptly. That's why tracking your remediation efforts is so important.

It's not enough to know that vulnerabilities are being addressed. You need to know how quickly and effectively they are resolved.

Additional Metrics for a Robust Security Posture

Testing Coverage

Testing coverage measures how much of your code is checked for security issues. It's like a safety net that protects your application from hidden risks. If you're only testing a small part of your codebase, you're gambling with your security.

You need a high testing coverage to make sure you don't miss any possible vulnerabilities that could cause you significant problems. If your testing coverage is low, you have gaps in your security.

By increasing your testing coverage, you're closing those gaps and making your application more secure.

Developer Training and Gamification

Training can be tedious. But when it comes to security, it's essential. According to studies, developers who received security related training create up to 50% fewer vulnerabilities. That's where gamification can come in handy. Turning training into a game makes you more likely to engage your developers and make the learning stick.

It's a proven method for increasing engagement and retention in training programs.

The benefits of this approach are twofold:

  • Enhanced Training Completion: Developers are more motivated to finish the training.
  • Improved Information Retention: Developers learn and remember, boosting their efficiency in spotting and resolving vulnerabilities.

Commercial developer training platforms like Secure Code Warrior or SecureFlag make it easier to roll out secure coding courses and to leverage gamification for your certification programs.
By investing in training methods that engage and resonate with developers, organizations can significantly bolster their first line of defence against potential threats.

Strengthening Security with DevSecOps Collaboration

Security is a team effort. It's not just the responsibility of your security team; it's a company-wide effort. That's why fostering a culture of collaboration between your security and development teams is so important.

Merging development and security teams under the DevSecOps philosophy yields undeniable benefits:

  • Early Detection: Integrating security checks during development helps catch vulnerabilities at the outset.
  • Efficient Remediation: With unified teams, vulnerabilities are resolved faster.
  • Shared Responsibility: Security becomes everyone's duty, fostering a proactive culture.

Steps for Effective Collaboration:

  • Training: Offer security training to developers, leveraging resources like OWASP.
  • Use Integrated Tools: Incorporate security tools directly into the DevOps pipeline for automated checks.
  • Open Communication: Encourage dialogues between teams to address and prevent issues.
  • Feedback Loops: Enable security teams to give developers actionable feedback for quicker fixes.

For a deeper dive into DevSecOps best practices, check out the DevSecOps Manifesto.

Leveraging Metrics to Engage Leadership

Compelling Visualizations

Presenting your data visually compellingly makes it easier for leadership to grasp the state of your application security.

The impact of effective data visualization can't be overstated. When leadership can easily understand your metrics, they're more likely to take the actions needed to improve security.

Whether it's allocating more resources or green-lighting a new initiative, effective visualization can be the catalyst for meaningful change.

Identifying and Prioritizing Key Metrics

With a myriad of metrics available, pinpointing the right ones can be overwhelming. Here's a structured approach to ensure you're focusing on metrics that resonate with your organization's goals:

[object Object]0. Identify Organizational Goals: Begin by clearly listing out your organization's top three security goals for the year. For instance, it could be reducing breach incidents, improving patch deployment speed, or enhancing developer security training. [object Object]1. Map Metrics to Goals: For each goal, identify specific metrics that directly measure its success. For instance, if the goal is to reduce breach incidents, a suitable metric might be the "time to detect breaches." [object Object]2. Prioritize: Not all metrics carry the same weight. Assign a priority level to each metric based on its relevance to the respective goal. [object Object]3. Allocate Resources: Direct resources (tools, personnel, and budget) primarily towards high-priority metrics. This ensures that you're investing in areas that align with your main objectives. [object Object]4. Review & Communicate: Periodically review these metrics with your team and present findings to leadership. Utilize visual aids like dashboards or charts to effectively communicate progress and challenges. [object Object]5. Iterate: As your organization evolves, its goals might shift. Revisit this process annually or biannually to ensure alignment.

By following this structured approach, you ensure that your security program remains dynamic, actionable, and closely tied to organizational aspirations, making it easier to secure leadership buy-in.


Metrics are essential for tracking the progress of your efforts and illustrating our organization's current status. Metrics go beyond mere numbers. They are the language that facilitates communication of your security posture to your leadership. From pinpointing bottlenecks to demonstrating return on investment (ROI), the appropriate metrics can be your strongest allies in garnering support.

The path to achieving robust application security resembles a marathon rather than a sprint. It demands continuous commitment, collaboration, and (above all) adaptability. Having the right tools in place can help make this process much more streamlined.

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