Definition

security debt

Contributor(s): Corinne Bernstein

Security debt is a variant of technical debt that occurs when organizations do not invest enough money or resources into security efforts upfront. The term compares the pressures of monetary debt with the long-term burden developers and IT teams face when security shortcuts are taken.

Factors that cause security debt to accumulate include improper testing and security preparedness procedures such as missed patches or abandoned administrative-level accounts. Other contributing factors might include risks that were discovered by never resolved. Keeping a risk register helps organizations track problems that can occur, stay aware of the top problems affecting the company and set priorities for addressing them. This can also save small problems from escalating into bigger, costlier issues.

To reduce security debt, software developers should include security testing as part of their development life cycle and apply timely patches after deployment. Companies need a well-structured, defined and repeatable patch management process which typically involves the IT operations or infrastructure team taking care of upkeep.

Maintenance typically entails obtaining the patches, testing them, documenting the testing for approval and installing them. Proper patch management requires having systems in place for discovering assets on the network and having a public or private repository to enable systems to fetch updates.

Organizations need to be aware of the seriousness of security debt and how vulnerabilities can add up. Security experts assert that there is a huge risk in skimping on security preparations. Negative outcomes could include reputational, regulatory, repair and intellectual property risks.

This was last updated in March 2019

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