How many of us have received an update notification and clicked the “remind me later” button? We’re busy at work and think “I’ll do it later,” or “it’s probably not important.” *click*
It happens to the best of us; however, this seemingly innocent event can have serious consequences for businesses.
Patch Management Definition
Patch Management is the process by which businesses/IT procure, test, and install patches and updates (changes in code or data).
Patches and updates are intended to upgrade, optimize, or secure existing software, computers, servers, and technology systems that maintain operational efficacy or mitigate security vulnerabilities. While simple in nature, most growing businesses struggle to identify critical patch updates, test and install patch releases to fix problems as they occur. In fact, the average time to patch is 102 days.
Patch management is a time consuming and often misunderstood task, yet the impact can have devastating effects: 57% of cyberattack victims stated that applying a patch or update would have prevented the attack. 34% say they knew about the vulnerability before the attack.
What is the purpose of patching and updating?
Patches and updates are designed to repair a vulnerability or flaw identified after an application or software is released. Unpatched software can make the device a vulnerable target of exploits. Software patches are a critical component of IT operations and security.
The window between the disclosure of a vulnerability and exploitation has shortened forcing companies to race and deploy a patch before cybercriminals can compromise systems.
How important is proactive patching to businesses?
We talk to small and medium business owners every day. When we ask a prospective partner “how do you manage your system updates and proactive patching?” 8 out of 10 times, the answer is that the business does not have a formal patch management process, or “I don’t know.”
Let’s look at the world’s largest ransomware attack in history to understand how critical patch management is for the survival and operational effectiveness of your business. The WannaCrypto (WannaCry) ransomware cyber attack was the perfect storm against individuals and businesses with poor patch management policies. Even though Microsoft released a patch one month before WannaCry ransacked 200,000 computers across 150 countries causing damages estimated from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars back in May 2017. Companies were to slow or simply didn't know they were vulnerable. Simply patching and keeping your systems updated would have prevented this.
Do We Learn From the Past?
Unfortunately, not everyone does, or individuals might not understand the critical threat patches prevent.
Patch and Update Vulnerabilities by The Numbers
57% of data breaches are attributed to poor patch management. Source: Ponemon
37% of breach victims confirmed they don’t scan their systems for vulnerabilities. Source: Service Now + Ponemon Institute Study – Today’s State of Vulnerability Response
48% of 3,000 businesses surveyed reported one or more data breaches in the last two years. – Service Now + Ponemon Institute Study
34% of breach victims knew they were vulnerable before they were breached. – Service Now + Ponemon Institute Study
74% of companies can’t patch fast enough because they don’t have enough staff – Service Now + Ponemon Institute Study
65% of businesses state that it is difficult to prioritize patches. – Service Now + Ponemon Institute Study
Prompt Patching is Vital for Cybersecurity.
When a new patch is released, attackers use software that looks at the underlying vulnerability in the application being patched. This is something that hackers perform quickly, allowing them to release malware to exploit the vulnerability within hours of a patch release.
Security patches prevent hackers and cybercriminals from exploiting vulnerabilities that could halt operations. Imagine if a hacker encrypted all your data, servers and computers for a ransom. Does your team have the resources, expertise, and recent backups needed to keep your business running?
By now, we should have a good grasp on how important an effective patch management procedure is to the cybersecurity of your business, clients and customers.
So, what does an effective patch management best practice process look like?
Current Patch Management Best Practices
1. Take a “Critical Updates First” approach and patch exploitable vulnerabilities as soon as possible. Critical vulnerabilities that have published exploit code should be given the highest risk rating in the Patch Management Policy.
2. Implement a Data Backup & Recovery (Rollback) Plan. Every business should already have a Backup and Disaster Recovery plan, complete with on-site and off-site (cloud) full-system image backups. With system image backups in place, your team can easily rollback any computer or servers that experience incompatibility or performance issues post-patch. These backups can save you hours, hard-earned money and frustration if anything goes wrong while rolling out major patches across the organization.
3. Make proactive patch management a core practice of your policy. Taking a proactive approach to your patch management strategy will prevent your business from frequently going into emergency patching mode like many companies experienced with the WannaCry outbreak in 2017. Instead, by focusing on releasing patches as they occur, based on severity level, CVSS score, product name, and the prioritization model you created in step three above. This will allow your team to focus on strategic objectives that grow your business.
4. Centralize and automate your patching process. While patching can be time-consuming, automated patch management allows you to save time and reduce errors. Most patch management software enables you to automate each stage of the patching process, from scanning applications of devices, downloading missing patches, scheduling and deploying patches based on designated policies to reporting.
5. Utilize a Principle of Lease Privilege (POLP) approach for end-users. Many organizations often allow employees to have admin privileges with their company devices; this is especially common in the SMB space. What happens? Most employees will dismiss or ignore important updates, patches, and security vulnerability updates. A frequently overlooked patch management best practice that is to not give full admin rights to end-users. While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the IT department to execute a least privilege policy to restrict employees, end users really should only have a minimal amount of access or the privileges necessary to meet the demands of the role within an organization.
6. Patch and update “golden images” at least once a quarter. “Golden images” are master software/system images used by IT as a template to set up and deploy new devices. When your company orders a new laptop or onboards a new employee, IT will often have a preconfigured system image that contains all the business applications, software, settings, privileges, and operating system necessary for the new user to hit the ground running. When your master images already contain the most up-to-date software and security patches, your team won’t have to do the same legwork again when setting up a new device.
Value of Working with Managed Patch Management Partner
A solid patch management process is an essential requirement for any size business. Unfortunately, most organizations do not have the expertise, software or mature processes/systems in place to effectively secure their infrastructure.
Manually checking for and applying patches in is almost an impossible task. Do you prioritize servers or employee workstations or third-party applications? Do you focus on security fixes or compatibility updates? And how do you keep track of which patches have been applied? These are difficult questions for any IT team. IT teams are struggling to keep on-premises, data center, and cloud infrastructure up to date with the latest versions of operating systems, databases, and third-party applications.
Without the right investments in people, process, and technology, an organization can quickly fall behind on critical patches that address security and compliance requirements. Rather than forcing already strained internal IT teams to update critical systems manually, many small and medium-sized businesses look to partner with Kappa Computer Systems.
As a Managed Service Provider (MSP), we have the expertise, software, and mature systems in place to effectively secure your infrastructure using time-tested patch management processes that has evolved over 25 years. We create a comprehensive Patch and Update Management Policy for your business, use patch management tools to automate the mundane and have our engineers on standby to provide human intervention when needed to ensure that your entire network of devices, databases, servers, applications, and systems are protected.
Your business will remain up-to-date with latest features, functionality, security, and capabilities offered by application and OS vendors resulting in improved employee productivity, security, and compliance.
Automation provides an auditable change management process and helps plug exploitable holes in your security posture while complying with various regulatory mandates such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, NIST, FFIEC, GLBA, SOX, FERPA, and others.
Patches are not an option; they are a requirement for secure to prevent security breaches, data theft, data loss, PII and PHI violations, reputation issues, legal penalties and ultimately protect your business.
High-risk and critical security patches need to be deployed as fast as possible (within days) in order to prevent hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities.
Hundreds of thousands systems and thousands of business could have prevented the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017 had they deployed the security patches in a timely manner, saving hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in lost revenue and damages.
57% of data breaches are attributed to poor patch management.
Prompt patching is vital for cybersecurity.
End users should have the least amount of privileges necessary to fulfill their role.
Patch management is a requirement of HIPAA and seeks to mitigate compliance or regulatory risks.
Taking end users out of the patch management process will result in more secure environments.
These aren’t OS-specific issues; everyone is vulnerable.
Many small and medium-sized businesses work with Managed IT Services Providers to ensure an effective patch management policy is implemented.
Reachout to Kappa Computer Systems to learn how our Patch Management solution reduces the risk of having a security breach and all the related problems that come with it, like data theft, data loss, PII and PHI violations, reputations issues or even legal penalties.