2017 has been a busy year for the cybersecurity industry. The increase in ransomware attacks and large data breaches have dominated news cycles and brought web security to the front of consumers’ minds. Among the steady drumbeat of security news has been an underlying theme – known vulnerabilities and the inability to patch affected systems quickly.
In the case of the ransomware WannaCry, tens of thousands of systems were impacted two months after the patch had been released by Microsoft. Known vulnerabilities are the leading cause of data breaches, accounting for 44% of incidents.
So why aren’t vulnerabilities remediated once a patch is released? There are two primary scenarios. The first applies to large organizations with an established patch testing workflow, where time is built into their process to ensure the patch won’t impact the myriad of software dependencies. The second scenario applies to companies that are still using a manual process to patch vulnerabilities. In both cases, automated patch management can reduce the amount of time an infrastructure is left exposed to a vulnerability.
The Trouble With Manual Patch Management
New vulnerabilities are always being discovered, either by the company who distributes the program or by a third-party researcher, as was the case with CloudBleed and the Deep Root Analytics voter information leak. Ongoing vulnerability patching is a crucial security process for IT professionals. With companies running hundreds of different systems, applications, and extensions, one overlooked vulnerability can open the door to the entire network. Once a vulnerability is discovered, the risk of it being exploited due to a slow or manual patching process can result in customers leaving, lawsuits, denied cyber-insurance claims, and loss of employment for IT professionals.
Despite its importance, regular vulnerability patching is too often overlooked. To patch systems, IT Managers must scan for vulnerabilities, identify the systems that need to be patched, download patches for each system, apply the patch, and report on it. Given the time and resources to keep up with new patches, the cost of manually patching systems is significant enough to risk delaying patching and hoping that the company is not attacked.
For IT security teams with stretched resources, a manual patching process is no longer a realistic approach to maintain data security. Patch automation is necessary to maintain a secure infrastructure.
The Importance of Automated Patch Management
As the name implies, automated patch management programs are able to regularly scan and apply patches, removing the manual elements of patch management. This means vulnerabilities are identified as soon as they are known and can be tested or fixed right away.
Automated patch management systems originated as on-premise solutions at a time when the majority of IT networks were on-premise. As networks themselves have moved towards the cloud, leveraging diverse networks of servers from providers such as Amazon and Google, cloud-native patching automation has emerged as a solution which can manage systems and software of any kind, regardless of location. Cloud-native patch automation also reduces the need for ongoing management of the patching system itself.
Patches can be applied 24/7 so downloading and installing patches doesn’t disrupt a workday, and the potential for human error while installing patches is removed. The time needed to monitor an automated patch management system just minutes a day, meaning even IT teams with limited resources can keep up to date on security patches.
Patch management is a foundational element of cybersecurity, and not patching is no longer an acceptable risk. With automated patch management, organizations can maintain constant, ongoing patch compliance. Patch automation leads to fewer vulnerabilities, better IT staff utilization, and improved overall IT security.
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