Patch Management Mania: What, Why, and How
Patch Management Mania: What, Why, and How is a part of our “Cybersecurity Basics” content series. For more information about how your organization can protect itself from cybercriminals, browse more from this knowledge-rich series here.
Cybercrime and recent geopolitical instability assure that ransomware gangs and state-sponsored actors will continue their escapades against businesses and critical infrastructure. The preferred tactics of cybercriminals involve attacks against IT infrastructure vendors. These cyberattacks are accomplished by “poisoning the digital well” at the source.
As the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline demonstrated, we depend on national infrastructure for our basic utilities. The same holds true when it comes to IT utilities like internet connections, network management, and email communication tools. Just as our assumption that water will pour from the tap or the lights will come on at the flip of a switch, we assume our IT backbone will be there, quietly doing its job in the background.
It’s no wonder cybercriminals target these systems. Taking down or infecting a major IT player means downstream access to their customer base. Additionally, attacking IT vendors reduces the cybercriminals’ exposure profile, thereby reducing the risk of detection. Hence, it’s far easier to “poison the digital well” at the source of these services than to affect each house in the village. As Solar Winds, Kesaya, Microsoft HAFNIUM, and Log4J vulnerabilities demonstrated, criminals have these tactics down to a science. For hackers, these kinds of attacks present a viable business model with a sustainable revenue model. Unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
So what can IT teams do in the face of a malicious threat? The best cybersecurity strategy is to keep systems patched, up-to-date and to adopt a Managed Detection and Response (MDR) platform to aircover above systems exposed to unpatched vulnerabilities.
However, the problem is that the practical application of this strategy deals with hundreds if not thousands of different patches. There are countless updates for these systems, and few companies have the bandwidth to keep up with the constant flow of demands. This blog post will discuss patching, prioritizing, and automating the process to manage workloads and protect your organization from systemic attacks.
What is Patch Management?
Patch Management is the process and service that keeps network devices and software on computers up to date by identifying and deploying patches to all an organization’s endpoints, including servers and mobile devices. Patches can include new functions or features to an application and are short-term solutions until a new software release exists. Any software is bound to technical vulnerabilities, and once exposed and shared, it can be targeted by cybercriminals.
“60% of breach victims said they were breached due to an unpatched known vulnerability where the patch was not applied,”Ponemon Institute Vulnerability Survey
The downside to patches is that they alert criminals to the vulnerability. This is because when a new patch is released, cybercriminals quickly identify what the underlying vulnerability was within the application. The goal for IT teams are to implement the patch to limit exposure, and before the cybercriminal can exploit it. Patching applies to IT vendors as well as their customers—everyone needs to do it. According to Comparitech, the US government’s National Vulnerability Database (NVD) published over 8,000 vulnerabilities in Q1 of 2022. Bulletproof security is impossible to create, but that doesn’t mean organizations are defenseless to all the current and new vulnerabilities.
Who performs the Patch Management Process?
The patch management process can be carried out by an organization’s IT team or an MDR platform. MDR platforms are cloud services that help you efficiently remediate vulnerabilities and patch systems. A timely patching strategy is essential because software updates are based on active vulnerabilities, which can be found at any time. The risk of outdated software grows with time as attackers can more easily identify weaknesses within systems.
An effective patch management process includes the following features:
- Cloud-based tools that are easy to use and deploy
- There is no need to install software on-premises or configure VPNs or open ports. Transitioning to the cloud will allow you to immediately scan for missing patches and patch any workstation, server, or work-from-home (WFH) device. This significantly optimizes bandwidth usage by caching patches locally on your network.
- Remote patching endpoints and everyday company or employee devices
- Companies that give their employees the option to WFH can install and scan any device within their network for missing patches from the cloud.
- Automated patching of endpoints
- There are patch management services where you can automate patching based on prioritized vulnerability data to address the most critical threats first. Teams can routinely automate patches to free up their time for higher-priority security tasks.
- Automated vulnerability correlations and patching
- Automatically correlating and mapping vulnerabilities with patches and necessary configuration changes decreases the remediation response time. This creates ready-to-deploy “patch jobs” that can be scheduled automatically. From this process, a report is usually made that lets IT, and security teams share a priority list of applications and systems to patch regularly.
Why Do You Need Patch Management?
As cyberattacks continue to rise, organizations must take proactive steps to maintain a healthy cybersecurity posture. One of the leading causes of data breaches is unpatched operating systems and software applications, making it critical to implement a timely patch management process. Strengthening your IT security with patches can help improve overall functionality and performance by minimizing downtime caused by unsupported or outdated software. The patch management process can help customers deploy new benefits and features, helping your organization run more productively.
How Do You Benefit from Patch Management?
Here are some of the many benefits from adding patch management to your cybersecurity plan:
- Satisfied Endpoint Customers – If your organization distributes a service or product where customers use your technology, you know how imperative it is for it to work. Patch management keeps your systems running by continuously fixing software bugs and improving your software’s stability.
- Secured IT Landscape – When consistently patching vulnerabilities, you significantly reduce the risks within your environment- protecting your organization from data breaches.
- No Fines from Compliance Issues – If your organization is not practicing patch management and not meeting compliance regulations, you can be hit with a hefty fine. Successfully managing vulnerabilities ensures you are up to date with compliance regulations.
- Cybersecurity Innovation – Sometimes, organizations use patch management deployment to release new features. This provides a way to update your technology at scale while improving functionality.
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