- November 8, 2021
Patch management is the process of testing, installing patches, or making changes to the code or data of software. Patching is necessary for upgrading, optimizing, or securing existing software, computers servers, and the complete system. Timely patch management corrects any errors in the software and helps maintain operational efficacy alongside mitigating security vulnerabilities. In addition, these patches help to fix any software vulnerability detected after its release.
According to a report from Ponemon Institute, poor patch management is the main reason behind 57% of data breaches. As a result of various challenges, organizations take 102 days to apply, test and deploy patches. Thus, organizations can take more time to roll out patches to avoid any problems, even with a functional patch management process.
A joint study notes that 65% of businesses find it challenging to prioritize patches. The report also highlighted that although many victims knew about vulnerabilities in their system, most organizations could not apply the patches more quickly because of a lack of skilled staff.
The evolving threat landscape has elevated the need for strong cybersecurity measures across organizations. Unpatched software is vulnerable to cyberattacks, so identifying and repairing vulnerabilities are critical for maintaining a secure environment. Additionally, security teams in organizations are concerned with the emergence of sophisticated malware, as these attack vectors could exploit unidentified zero-day vulnerabilities. Insufficient data, poor patch reporting posture, and operational inefficiency are the prime cybersecurity challenges in creating an effective patch management process.
Every organization must have a patch management process for increasing cybersecurity resilience and reducing security risks. Patch management helps businesses keep their software and applications updated. In addition, it ensures smooth operation, supports system uptime. As cyberattacks increase worldwide, many governments are coming up with rules and regulations for organizations to maintain a certain level of cybersecurity compliance. Patch management is a part of the process for organizations to become cybersecurity compliant.
Implementing a Patch Management Program
The implementation of well-thought-out patch management should be cost-effective and security-focused. Tracking all security controls in an organization, such as antivirus, firewalls, and vulnerability management tools will make the patching process faster and more efficient.
Below are the steps necessary for the successful implementation of a patch management program:
- Asset management: This strategic approach helps businesses identify the assets of the organization and the vulnerabilities associated with them. Diligent asset management helps gain an informed view of the entire ecosystem to implement a suitable patch management process.
- Vulnerability prioritization and remediation: The evolving cyber threat landscape makes it difficult for organizations to fix every vulnerability with limited time and resources. Prioritization and remediation of vulnerabilities related to critical business operations is an essential step for implementing a patch management program.
- Policy Creation: The next step is to develop a patch management policy that contains all the guidelines and requirements for vulnerability management. The policy creation process involves various phases, including testing, deploying, and recording the security patches applied to the organization’s endpoints.
- Patch testing, rollout, and auditing: It is necessary to test patches in a non-production environment to monitor any incompatibility or performance issues. Auditing is the final step after successful testing and patch rollout to identify any failed or pending patches.
- Check the program performance: A successful patch management program must meet unique needs and add value to the organization. Therefore, it is necessary to check and analyze the performance of the patch management program to ensure a good ROI.
Risks of an Inefficient Patch Management Program
The rising severity of cyberattacks in recent years has increased awareness in organizations about proper patch management programs. However, unpatched vulnerabilities can lead to critical security breaches. In addition, a poor patch management system leaves sensitive data exposed. This unprotected data are easily susceptible to malware and ransomware attacks.
Without a proper patch management system, cybercriminals can exploit vulnerable devices and access the central system. With access to the primary system, hackers can steal sensitive information or carry out a ransomware attack to extort money from the organization.
As a result of an inefficient patch management program, businesses can become targets of long-term infection. Postponing the installation of security patches for vulnerable software allows the malware to remain in the system. Cybercriminals who have gained access through the malware can use this chance to stay undetected and siphon crucial business data.
Businesses must perform periodic security audits to detect vulnerabilities and use the information gained for developing a patch update. Establishing a robust patching cadence as part of the corporate vulnerability management lifecycle will help remediate security vulnerabilities.
Below are some patch management best practices to help organizations stay ahead of cybercriminals:
- Identify and categorize all assets to prioritize them for the patch management program.
- Establish a patch management policy that streamlines the entire patch application process and includes all essential information and guidelines.
- Perform regular monitoring to help identify any new vulnerabilities before any cybercriminal could exploit them.
- Use automated vulnerability monitoring systems along with security teams to ensure consistent updates and better risk management.
- Audit and analyze reports to determine the effectiveness of the patch management program.
Small and medium-sized businesses without strong cybersecurity postures are easy targets for cybercriminals. In addition, the absence of a patch management program reduces the survival and operational effectiveness of the business. However, timely security patches can stop hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities and keep the business operations functional.
With the increase in sophisticated cyberattacks worldwide, robust patch management programs are a must-have for organizations. These programs are crucial for quickly patching vulnerabilities, preventing any security, compliance, or performance issues from arising.