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How to prevent the user who requested the exemption from approving it?

To approve exemptions, users must have the "Approve / Reject" permission. Regrettably, we currently lack a setting that prevents the user who requested the exemption from approving it.

Why is the STO step Grype throwing the exception 'db could not be loaded: the vulnerability database was built X weeks ago (max allowed age is 5 days)'?

The exception you're encountering, indicates that the Grype step in the STO process is unable to load the vulnerability database due to its age exceeding the maximum allowed age of 5 days. If the environment where you're running these scans has restricted internet connectivity (firewalled), you'll need to set up a local database for Grype to update itself. You can find comprehensive documentation for the initial setup, configuring the local database, and final configuration in the following link: Grype Setup in Airgapped Environments. While we do update the database every time we rebuild the Grype image, this is primarily done for performance reasons. A fresher database requires less time and effort to update at runtime. However, this update is not sufficient to bypass the database access requirement, as the maximum allowed age is 5 days. You do have the option to temporarily disable the age check and run Grype with the database it ships with, but this is not recommended from a security standpoint. It's advisable to follow the provided instructions to resolve the database access issue in a more secure manner.