As you have no doubt experienced, the increase in device operating systems connecting to the company network has resulted in an increase in your attack surface. In recent years macOS and different Linux distros have grown in market share, and today nearly every organization runs a mixed OS environment.
This proliferation of diverse operating systems presents a challenge for IT teams who need to keep track of every system in their infrastructure, the cyber vulnerabilities each system could be exposed to, and the new OS patch releases from vendors.
As the number of devices and operating systems increases, staying current with cross platform patch management becomes critical to maintain data security. Mixed OS patching is obviously more difficult and time consuming than patching a network running entirely on Windows. And, the broad shift to remote work makes device patching and endpoint hardening even more complex and challenging.
Let’s look at the top challenges to cross platform patch management:
1. Lack of time
Time is one of the most valuable resources for IT cyber security teams, and the time it takes for manual endpoint patching is a top reason patching is often put off. In our 2020 Cyber Hygiene Report, we found that enterprises surveyed are not patching fast enough, especially when it comes to zero-days. 59 percent agree that their processes and tools do not enable them to respond quickly enough to cyber threats.
2. Patch testing is complex
One element of patch management is testing patches before they are fully deployed to ensure they are reliable. Compatibility testing of patching is a time-consuming task. With a mixed OS environment and cross-platform patch management, the dependencies IT Managers need to check to ensure a new patch won’t affect other applications becomes more challenging.
3. Inability to report patch status
Knowing what patches are outstanding is important for IT teams to prioritize work and gain visibility into their organization’s security. Keeping records of patching is more difficult when users are operating multiple systems, distributed, and working from locations outside the corporate perimeter. Instead of gathering data through one patch management program, IT Managers need to look at two or more systems and then manually compile a full patch status report.
When new attacks happen, executives want to know in real time if their system is vulnerable. Verifying systems are secure in a mixed OS environment and then providing a report that shows patch status across an entire infrastructure becomes an all-hands-on-deck fire drill that impacts the overall productivity of the IT team.
4. Difficulty tracking inventory
As infrastructures grow and expand remotely, IT teams need to maintain an updated inventory of individual systems and software applications. This is important both to track company resources and to stay on top of security updates.
In a mixed OS environment without current inventory visibility, workstations and servers are likely to be running different versions of their operating systems. Some may even run multiple operating systems in virtual environments.
Keeping track of these systems, and knowing when new systems are added, is a burdensome task that can quickly get out of control.
5. Maintaining compliance
Data security is under increasing scrutiny. The need to be compliant is becoming a requirement of new data security regulations. For example, if your company processes credit card data, you must adhere to PCI requirements which state that critical patches be applied within one month of release in addition to having quarterly vulnerability scanning of your PCI infrastructure using an ASV-certified scanning authority.
Regular patching is often included as a compliance requirement, and multiple operating systems make this requirement more difficult to meet. Compliance audits often fail due to a lack of both patching and process.
In our 2020 cyber hygiene study, missing OS patches was cited as the #1 technical attack surface exposure to cause a data breach. It’s crucial that companies with multiple environments invest the resources to stay patched. Compliance is not a one-time event, but an ongoing security requirement.
Automated patch management for mixed OS environments
Multi OS environments are a reality, and the inability to patch them in a timely manner is a security risk. When looking for a patch automation solution, focus on those that can patch multiple environments from a single dashboard.
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