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Poor Patch Management: Surprisingly Common & Extremely Costly

Patching is a crucial component for enterprise security and business productivity, but it's often neglected by organizations.

Patching is a crucial component for enterprise security and business productivity, but it's often neglected by organizations. The verdict is clear: poor patch management is surprisingly common and extremely costly. Failing to patch vulnerabilities in a timely manner can result in higher financial costs, lost productivity, and reputational damage. Cybercriminals are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities to exploit and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. A 2022 survey found that of the security incidents caused due exposure of a known vulnerability to external networks, 57% could have been prevented through software patching. What’s worse, incidents caused by unpatched systems cost organizations 54% more than those caused by employee error.

To effectively prevent the exploitation of external vulnerabilities, organizations need to take a risk-based approach to patch management. This involves identifying the most critical systems and applications, prioritizing patches based on potential impact, and deploying patches in a timely and effective manner. Automation is becoming an increasingly popular approach to patch management, as it offers several advantages over manual patching. Automating the patch management process can reduce the risk of human error, speed up patch deployment, and provide comprehensive visibility into an organization's IT environment. 

In this blog, we will explore the processes involved in patch management, the benefits of patch management, and the risks of not patching. We will also provide best practices and recommendations for effective patch management, and look at how automation enables comprehensive patch management that can help organizations reduce the risk of cyber attacks.

What is Patch Management?

Patch management is a crucial aspect of IT security and is essential for maintaining the integrity of an organization's infrastructure. It ensures that software and operating systems are up-to-date and protected against security vulnerabilities and exploits. Patch management involves the distribution and deployment of software updates that come in three main types: security patches, bug-fixing patches, and performance and feature patches. 

Security patches are the most critical type of patch as they address vulnerabilities that have been discovered by hackers, which can lead to data breaches, system crashes, and other serious consequences. These patches are created to cover up newly discovered security holes in the system and are released to prevent further exploitation by attackers. As technology is continually evolving, security patches are a constant requirement for keeping your systems safe. 

Bug-fixing patches are another important type of patch that fixes application errors and common or uncommon bugs encountered during regular use of the systems. These patches save time spent dealing with bugs, improve overall operational efficiency, and can have a big impact on the bottom line. Patches that repair bugs or system flaws can ensure that your systems are updated with the most current and bug-free versions of software applications. 

Performance and feature patches are also critical as they provide a competitive edge to software companies by allowing them to provide the best applications on the market. These patches can involve general performance increases like faster computation speeds or lower resource requirements, or they can add quality of life features that make using the applications easier and faster. Patches that improve performance and cover up security holes are often combined to ensure that systems are up-to-date and secure. 

The Benefits of Proper Patch Management

Efficient patch management is a task that can provide immediate value to organizations by ensuring that their systems are updated with the most current and secure versions of software applications. Some key benefits include: 

  • Reducing the attack surface by patching vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers
  • Enhancing system functionality by improving software features
  • Achieving compliance with regulations and satisfactory audit results 
  • Increasing productivity by fixing errors and bugs that cause downtime

At the same time, failing to patch your systems poses significant risks, including: 

  • Increased exposure to cyberattacks and security breaches 
  • Devastating financial impacts resulting from successful cyberattacks 
  • Potential loss in productivity due to outdated systems and issues caused by lack of patching Fines for non-compliance with regulations 
  • Proper patch management involves a multi-step process, including scanning, assessing, deploying, and monitoring patches

Patch Management Process & Best Practices

The patch management process typically involves the following steps: 

  1. Discovery: This is the process of identifying all the software and hardware components within an organization's infrastructure that require patching. This includes identifying which applications are installed on each device and what version they are running. 
  2. Assessment: Once all the software and hardware components have been identified, they need to be assessed to determine which ones require patching. This involves analyzing each component for known vulnerabilities and assessing the potential risk of exploitation. 
  3. Prioritization: Once the assessment is complete, the vulnerabilities are prioritized based on their severity and the potential impact they may have on the organization's infrastructure. 
  4. Patching: Once the vulnerabilities have been prioritized, patches are applied to the affected components. This process can be automated, but it is often done manually to ensure that the patches are applied correctly and that no essential services are disrupted.
  5. Testing: After the patches have been applied, they need to be tested to ensure that they have been applied correctly and that no issues have been introduced into the infrastructure. 
  6. Reporting: The final step in the patch management process is reporting. This involves documenting the patches that have been applied, the vulnerabilities that have been addressed, and any issues that were encountered during the process. This information can be used to improve the patch management process in the future.

According to Gartner, “Patch management best practices operationalize the steps of the vulnerability management life cycle and require processes that span IT security and IT operations.” If you’re still using manual systems of patch management, here are some industry best practices that you can implement to make patch deployment more effective:

  1. Create an asset inventory: It is essential to keep track of your systems’ configuration and know which hardware, software, and versions of operating systems are currently in use. This will help you identify what needs to be patched. 
  2. Analyse the risk levels and assign priorities: Conduct a risk assessment analysis to identify non-compliant, vulnerable systems that need patches faster. Prioritize critical vulnerabilities to be patched first. 
  3. Consolidate software versioning: Standardizing your software and OS versions will increase the speed, efficiency, and stability of the patching process. 
  4. Create a patch management policy: Develop a clear and organized routine that constantly keeps your system away from threats. The process should be consistent and continual, not intermittent. 
  5. Do not delay important security patches: Patches with high security risk should be applied as soon as possible. 
  6. Test on a small sample before wide deployment: Test patches on a small set of machines before deploying them widely to avoid damage to certain machine configurations. 
  7. Have a rollback plan: In case of errors or conflicts, restore your software to the previous working version as soon as possible to reduce downtime. 
  8. Know what you're responsible for patching: Clearly identify targets and their locations to understand your responsibilities for patching. 
  9. Stay abreast of security vulnerabilities: Subscribe to reputable sources for commercial software. For internally developed applications, use a software composition analysis tool to track open source and third-party components. 

Automated Patch Management: The Future of Patching

Automation is becoming increasingly prevalent in the technology and cybersecurity space, with organizations of all sizes seeking to improve their security posture while reducing operational costs. In the world of cybersecurity, automation is seen as a key tool for managing the ever-increasing number of threats and vulnerabilities facing organizations — to stay ahead of cyber threats and keep systems and data secure. 

In patch management, too, automation is the way forward.  Despite the careful development of both proprietary and open source software, bugs can still emerge, some of which can result in security vulnerabilities. To manage this risk, businesses must implement a systematic, scheduled, and comprehensive patch management policy to ensure that software vulnerabilities are quickly and effectively addressed, reducing the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches. While implementing best practices can certainly improve the manual patch management process, they do not eliminate the disadvantages such as human error. Automation can address these issues, improve the security posture of your organization, and allow admins to focus on other security-related tasks.

Automated patch management offers several advantages over manual patching. Firstly, automated patching is faster and more accurate than manual patching, reducing the risk of human error and malware infections. It allows for the timely deployment of patches, reducing the window of vulnerability and minimizing the risk of cyber attacks. Secondly, automated patch management provides comprehensive visibility into an organization's IT environment, enabling the identification of systems that require updates, prioritization of patches, and tracking of patching progress across the entire IT environment. 

Purpose-built for modern and agile businesses, the Evren OS offers a comprehensive automated patch management solution that seamlessly integrates these advantages. It leverages managed services to take care of all updates and security fixes automatically and in a timely fashion, with updates and security fixes happening in the background. This approach reduces the burden on IT personnel and ensures that all systems are always up-to-date with the latest patches. Evren's internal Vulnerability Management Policy ensures that all un-managed systems are kept up-to-date and free of known vulnerabilities. Finally, through the Evren portal, admins can track all assets, including laptops and PCs, and get detailed information on the apps, patches, and configuration on each device. Thus, by automating the patch management process, Evren enables faster and more accurate patch deployment, provides comprehensive visibility into the IT environment, and reduces the burden on IT personnel — ultimately improving security posture, minimizing the impact on operations, and freeing up resources for other important tasks.

The effective management of patches is a vital element of security for your business and its operations, along with other critical measures of endpoint security, privileged access management, full-disk encryption, and more. To see how Evren delivers on all fronts to provide comprehensive security for your organization, get in touch with us: https://www.evren.co/contact