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How to Ensure Patch Compliance to the Latest Cybersecurity Standards

Patching is the process of deploying software updates. Often, these updates are resolving critical security vulnerabilities that can potentially be exploited by attackers. For organizations, patching is a critical element of good cybersecurity practices – and ensuring that all devices are compliant is essential.

A growing number of cybersecurity regulations are creating standards for patch management, and enterprises from every industry are going to need better patch compliance.

What is patch compliance?

To put it simply, patch compliance refers to the number of devices on your network that are “compliant” – meaning that the machines have been successfully patched or otherwise remediated against new threats. Deploying patches does precious little if none of your devices are compliant, so keeping tabs on the success and reach of your patch deployment efforts is a critical step for a strong patch management strategy. Organizations of every size may be affected by an array of issues that can hinder their patching efforts, ranging from low endpoint visibility to the end of support for commonly used software and servers.

While there are many variables that can affect the success of patch deployment, there is also no shortage of solutions and steps organizations can take to ensure their patching efforts are working – and that all devices and systems are compliant.

Consider system software upgrades for patch compliance

There are lots of reasons why organizations choose to forego system software upgrades, even when the software they're using will no longer be supported or receive necessary security updates. According to cyber experts, there are many challenges organizations may face: Smaller companies may not have the resources for a full OS upgrade, while updates for large-scale enterprises require substantial research and planning ahead of time.

Another big concern for just about every organization is the potential for software upgrades to impact operational workflow. But experts agree that systems that go without being upgraded are a significant threat to an organization's cybersecurity. While the potential hit to operational workflow may seem like a huge sacrifice, it is going to be a minor inconvenience compared to the wreckage of a data breach or ransomware attack.

Recently, Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 and Server 2008 – which means Windows 7  and Server 2008 users will no longer receive necessary patches for critical cyber vulnerabilities. Even though Microsoft has been hounding users to upgrade their operating systems to Windows 10 for months, current estimates suggest that 20 percent of people using Microsoft are running Windows 7.

One in five Microsoft users is running unsupported software.

That means at least one out of every five Microsoft users is running unsupported software. Failure to upgrade comes with many risks. Unsupported software is not updated nearly as often, which means vulnerabilities are not getting remediated – leaving the door wide open for attackers. Scammers may even launch targeted phishing attacks, luring Windows 7 users into opening their malicious emails with “warnings” about their unsupported software.

Continued use of unsupported software doesn't just hinder your overall patch compliance; it can affect your compliance with GDPR, PCI and HIPAA requirements as well.

It's important to note that system software is not the only software that needs to be updated. Third party applications also need to be updated regularly. Applications like Java or Adobe can be home to significant cyber vulnerabilities, and if you're not updating your apps or using the latest version, these vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers too. All software and applications need to be updated regularly in order to achieve compliance with new regulatory standards.

Patching and cybersecurity standards

If the devices on your organization's network aren't receiving necessary security updates, it can affect your compliance with critical cybersecurity standards and regulations. A number of government institutions and agencies have created sets of stringent cybersecurity standards to protect data and privacy. In the U.S., even different states may have different laws regarding how organizations must protect private or sensitive digital information. There are multiple prominent regulatory agencies that include some kind of patch compliance as part of their security standards.

For example, PCI, or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, is a set of security regulations that dictate the technical and operational standards businesses must follow to ensure credit card information given by cardholders is properly protected. Businesses that store, process, or transmit credit card data are required to be PCI compliant.

And PCI requirement 6.1 dictates that organizations need to “deploy critical patches within a month of release” in order to maintain their compliance.

Similarly, the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), also requires a rigorous patching protocol for its security standards to be met to secure data. And for healthcare organizations, there are HIPAA regulations, which also call for stringent patching practices.

If you're devices aren't getting patched, then they're out of compliamce

Poor patch compliance on your network can substantially impede your regulatory compliance. If your devices aren't getting patched, then they're out of patch compliance – and your organization may be out of compliance with industry-specific cybersecurity standards. For example, if you're a healthcare provider, failure to patch could put you out of compliance with HIPAA.

But out-of-date system software isn't the only concern when it comes to keeping your network up to snuff on security updates. Deploying patches is only the beginning; ensuring every device receives them successfully is the next step.

What to know about endpoint visibility

Guaranteeing that every device on your network is successfully receiving patches for critical vulnerabilities is essential to achieving sufficient patching compliance. But limitations in endpoint visibility and lack of inventory can be a real hindrance to the process of ensuring all devices are compliant.

Experts agree that creating an inventory of everything on your network – including all devices and third party software – is a crucial element of cyber hygiene best practices. But it is also a critical step to achieving full visibility over endpoints.

With a complete inventory, organizations can keep track of and secure all their assets more easily. A living inventory of devices and applications that are kept up-to-date gives organizations valuable information for overall cybersecurity – after all, you can't secure it if you don't know you have it.

Achieving full endpoint visibility also necessitates the ability to “see” all your endpoints in real time. With modern patching platforms, users can see the endpoints on their network, no matter where they are located, as well as take action to remediate threats as needed. Full endpoint visibility gives users the ability to see what's happening on every device regardless of its location – so you can see what patches deployed successfully and what devices need more attention, in real time.

Endpoints represent a substantial portion of the network for many organizations. Ensuring that all endpoints are receiving necessary security updates in a timely manner is critical to overall patch compliance. By maintaining visibility over endpoints, you can ensure that every device is updated and kept in compliance.

Achieve compliance with automated patch management

Automated patch management makes the process of patch compliance more accessible for organizations of any size. Automated patching solutions like Automox make it possible for users to patch across all devices – regardless of operating system, location or third party application – from a single interface.

Automated patching helps organizations ensure that patches for critical vulnerabilities don't end up getting delayed or forgotten about entirely. Many regulations call for patches to deploy within a certain time frame – and automated patching solutions can help users ensure patches are getting deployed in a timely fashion. Manual patching protocols can make it difficult to adhere to the time restraints on patches set forth by regulations like PCI, but automated tools make the process of deploying patches and keeping records more streamlined.

Legacy patch management solutions and manual patching processes can make the process of record keeping overly complex – particularly if an organization is using multiple operating systems and third party applications. But with modern, automated solutions, users can compile data and keep accurate records of their patch compliance with relative ease. Instead of having to pull data from multiple systems, solutions like Automox allow users to do and see everything from a single dashboard.

Automated patching solutions improve patching compliance

Automated patching solutions improve patching confidence, give users full visibility over their entire network, and can also include detailed reporting – all of which is critical to patch compliance. And with automation, faster patch deployment is more accessible. Current estimates suggest that malicious actors can weaponize a known vulnerability in as little as seven days, and zero-day vulnerabilities are already being exploited in the wild at the time of disclosure. Meanwhile, estimates also suggest that it can take an average of up to 102 days for organizations to patch for critical vulnerabilities.

Time is of the essence when it comes to patching; that's why several cybersecurity regulatory guidelines contain stipulations concerning time to patch. Patching is good, but patching faster is better. With a cloud-native, automated patch management solution like Automox, users can remediate zero-day vulnerabilities within 24 hours and take action against other critical vulnerabilities within 72 hours. Time is a luxury of the past; today's cyber attackers are moving faster and growing more sophisticated at a record pace – and many organizations need to do more in order to keep up. With automated patching tools, IT professionals can do more in less time.

The importance of patch management compliance

Automated patch management tools are a great option for ensuring patch management compliance. While “patch compliance” refers to the number of devices that have successfully received security updates, “patch management compliance” refers to cybersecurity regulations and standards regarding patch management.

There are many agencies which require organizations to implement a routine patching process, complete with full documentation. As previously stated, regulatory standards like PCI and GDPR often have stipulations regarding patch timing and frequency. Patch management compliance casts a much wider net: In addition to regulations regarding time-to-patch and patch frequency, standards for visibility, reporting, and documentation are also being set.

In other words, keeping track of the patches you've deployed is no longer enough. Regulations are growing more thorough, prompting organizations to keep in-depth documentation of a variety of reports and assessments. These can include regular baseline assessments of your network and its devices, non-compliant device reports, patch status and compliance reports, vulnerability assessments, and much more.

Patch management compliance requires organizations to do more than just patch. In order to meet the standards of cybersecurity regulations, companies must have a documented patching protocol and conduct regular reports and analyses – as well as maintain an inventory of all assets and have visibility over those devices. While regulations may not explicitly state that things like full endpoint visibility are a must, being able to see your endpoints and monitor their patch status is crucial to overall patch compliance.

Keeping your devices patch compliant will help your organization achieve overall patch management compliance, no matter what industry standards or regulations you have to meet. Using an automated patch management solutions supports patch compliance across all devices, and can help organizations ensure they are compliant with the cybersecurity regulations relevant to their industry.

Automox for Easy IT Operations

Automox is the cloud-native IT operations platform for modern organizations. It makes it easy to keep every endpoint automatically configured, patched, and secured – anywhere in the world. With the push of a button, IT admins can fix critical vulnerabilities faster, slash cost and complexity, and win back hours in their day. 

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