Why Agile IT Operations Use Automated Patch Management

Before we dive into why modern businesses require agile IT operations, it’s worth answering a fundamental question:

What is Agile?

Agile is among the most popular and enduring concepts in organizational thinking today. As such, definitions abound, and there are many paths to operational agility with a variety of starting points.

What is Agile IT Operations?

We define agile IT operations as the principles and practices for rapidly adapting to unforeseen changes in managing IT operating environments. These practices need to free up people’s time to work on creating greater strategic value for IT, enable processes that automate manual tasks, and deploy technology that supports modern use cases, particularly for the new normal of widely distributed IT environments.

We can see the real impact of agile IT operations in helping to ensure business, development, and technology continuity, despite disruption. All of those are now requirements for doing business. And being able to rapidly address disruptions is true agility. Without it you won’t be able to recognize and pursue new opportunities. Nor will you be able to avoid or remediate the threats that inevitably come along with those opportunities.

As the events of the past year have shown us, even our big-picture thinking on how businesses can be disrupted has changed. Early last year, if your company was in the process of updating bandwidth and infrastructure to support enhanced remote access for a new client or your executive team, those efforts went into overdrive to scale up access for a remote workforce.

Being agile requires more than just confidence in your in-house teams. Your vendors’ ability to offer agile service directly impacts your company’s ability to support your workforce. There was a time when your biggest worry with most vendors was double-digit increases in end-user license fees. Now, you need to trust that your vendors can build and support extensible solutions that won’t become a liability — even when you tell them how your core service offering is changing a second time in 11 months to meet current conditions.

Having agile IT operations optimizes the ability to keep pace with changing business needs. If you can’t scale safely, then your network, IT infrastructure, and workforce will constantly be at risk from evolving threats.

Agile IT Security Operations Are No Longer Optional

Zero-day and critical  vulnerabilities require rapid remediation so that systems are patched before attackers can exploit unpatched or misconfigured systems. According to leading industry data, adversaries are weaponizing new critical vulnerabilities in 7 days, on average.

Agile IT Operations enables immediate action to remediate these and similar threats to ensure the security of your network and data – so you can harden your endpoints faster than attackers seize them.

Can you mitigate critical vulnerabilities in less than a week? If you needed to update a third-party or in-house developed application app that was present on every workstation in your company, how long would it take? And how confident would you be that it was done completely?

If your server and endpoint patching is still running only once a month on an on-premises implementation, then you lack the agility to perform patch updates to threats at scale. More importantly, because legacy tools require a VPN connection to your corporate network, you likely lack visibility and control over your entire distributed IT environment. Your dispersed workforce has then become a significant security risk.

You also must consider how effectively you’re using your staff resources. If large-scale vulnerabilities can be remediated quickly only by recruiting all hands and derailing IT operations, then it is clear that the proper tools aren’t available to your teams. Manual patching approaches like this are the antithesis of agile.

Automox keeps companies agile by helping to remediate zero-day vulnerabilities within 24 hours — and other critical vulnerabilities within 72 hours. Known vulnerabilities are the largest threat vector for organizations today, and the inability to rapidly remediate when using cumbersome, legacy platforms is often identified as a root cause for breaches.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) National Vulnerability Database showed a steady increase in the total number of vulnerabilities in 2020, just as it has for every year since 2017. Key findings show that:

  • One-quarter of these threats are rated high severity.
  • Up to 76% of known vulnerabilities are found in third-party applications rather than in a computer’s operating system.
  • These third-party applications, including browsers and applications by Adobe, Google, Firefox, and other vendors, are a growing vulnerability concern, simply because of how ubiquitous these applications are on every endpoint.

Attacks from known vulnerabilities that remain unpatched have increased as dispersed workforces have fully embraced the work-from-anywhere paradigm. According to NIST data, Improper Privilege Management, where software does not properly assign, modify, track, or check privileges for an actor, was the source of the largest increase of all vulnerabilities from 2019 to 2020. Exploiting these vulnerabilities gives bad actors an unintended sphere of control over those systems.

Misconfigured software and devices also play a role in this increase. That’s easy to understand given the lack of visibility IT operations has into the devices people use when working from home.

Aligning User Privilege and Access

In Forrester’s State of Application Security report, surveyed security professionals said that the most common attack vectors today are web applications (35%), and software vulnerabilities (42%).

With more work being done entirely in the cloud via SaaS applications and virtual infrastructure, the SANS institute has expanded their definition of an endpoint to include browsers. As a threat vector, an unpatched endpoint for a user with a generic system access can be the first foothold in building a presence inside company networks. Users may not even be aware of how much of your network they are privy to, but the limits of those privileges can be discovered and exploited by others.

Bad actors notoriously begin their breaches by hunting for unpatched vulnerabilities on machines that SecOps and IT Operations teams can’t see so they can gain access to business data and assets. Once they’re in, they use pilfered privileges to steal intellectual property or install ransomware. These are threats that stem directly from how people use endpoints to contact networks and business assets today. Legacy patching tools were never intended to help companies secure against these problems.

It’s Time to Make Vulnerability Patching a Priority

Given these stats, an agile IT operation needs a vulnerability and patch management platform that can work in a multi-OS environment and has full support for third-party patching. If you were planning on updating your security “someday” or “soon,” keep in mind that according to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020, the United States leads all countries with the highest average cost of a data breach at $3.86 million dollars. And the average time to identify and contain a breach was 280 days.

On top of that, no one still knows how long attackers lurked within many thousands of corporate networks as part of the SolarWinds incident.

Given that the majority of attacks from vulnerability patching issues are from known threats, these aren’t the kind of risks that anyone needs to be taking.  

Agile, automated patch management limits your exposure to the expensive and painfully drawn-out experience of a data breach while simultaneously increasing your overall cybersecurity. Automox’s automated patch and configuration management platform will decrease your attack surface while saving your IT Operations and SecOps teams time. With the right solution, your company can prioritize getting ahead and staying agile rather than playing catch-up with endpoint patching.

Patch and Configuration Management: You Can’t Patch What You Can’t See

Visibility is at the core of effective patch and configuration management. It’s essential to have a complete inventory of all hardware and software to enable rapid remediation. In fact, the first steps in every effective cyber hygiene practice require this level of visibility.

This level of visibility becomes all but impossible with a remote workforce that is connecting from home — or anywhere — with WiFi on laptops that are likely to be shared with others and have many personal third-party apps installed on them.

To put it another way, unless you’re actively fighting to stop it, someone is installing a torrenting client or clicking the wrong link on a sketchy streaming site on their work laptop right now.

Legacy patch and configuration management tools like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (formerly System Center Configuration Manager [SCCM]) can do some of the necessary work to have an accurate inventory of company-owned endpoints. But those tools are on-premises only. Even their cloud-based versions require on-premises systems. What’s more challenging, both of these tools rely on remote users to connect their devices through a VPN so that they can be scanned and updated. Since there’s no way to ensure users are connecting regularly, even the most rigorous and disciplined cyber hygiene best practices still expose companies to unnecessary risk.

How to Automate Patch Management

To automate patch management, you need a solution that can automatically inventory all endpoints on your network and scan them to detect what operating system and software are installed. The patch management tool will check these results against a database of known vulnerabilities, then automatically deploy and install patches and updates to remediate threats.

See how easy it is to get started and add endpoints to Automox.

For agile IT operations, patch management and vulnerability remediation is a constant process. Users and endpoints are exposed to too many threat vectors during the course of their typical once-a-month patching and update scans. As is so often the case, some processes work best when they don’t rely on human memory. Patch management is no different, and a truly automated solution that is always working will never overlook lesser used servers or succumb to alert fatigue at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

Agile Automated Patch Management for Your Agile IT Operations

An agile automated patch management platform can quickly scale to meet rapidly changing endpoint management needs. It will work with remaining legacy systems to streamline and simplify patch management within an WSUS/SCCM environment and keep remote and cloud assets secure.

Extensible, automation architecture like the Automox cloud-native platform enables IT Operations and SecOps teams to customize their product experience and act proactively – whether that’s mitigating new vulnerabilities before a patch is published, installing software packages, or removing a legacy vendor’s footprint — all through a single agent.

Effective patch management tools must be easy to use. Tools that require extra effort to add devices — or are separate services for a specific operating system or location — also expose your network to risk. Your IT team today might know all of the exceptions and one-offs that require special steps or manual labor to update, but this is the kind of institutional knowledge that gets lost as workers advance or leave the company. With Automox, adding devices is as simple as installing an agent that gives immediate visibility to the device, regardless of operating system or location.  

Server Patching to Support a Dispersed Workforce

Workstations and remote endpoints are the focus of many current IT operations because supporting remote workforces means an influx of potentially unsecured endpoints. However, server patching must remain a priority as both on-premises and cloud servers are at the core of remote workforce security.

If you are instituting a Zero Trust framework in response to the additional threats posed by dispersed workers, server patching is critical to the success of those efforts. Least privilege access is an effective means of combating vulnerabilities that are exposed by improper privilege management. But implementing a consistent, uniform response is only possible when all machines are configured correctly.

Preventing configuration drift in your server room is only possible if you’re sure that your virtual machines are running the same security protocols as on-premises Linux and Microsoft Windows servers. Automox cloud-native patch management works on Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux, and can be configured with Automox Worklets™ to make sure all in-house developed and third-party programs are patched and updated. Security measures are only as secure as the machines they’re running on.

Finding the Balance: Cybersecurity That Enables Productivity

Robust cybersecurity requires vigilant endpoint hardening protocols and frequent assessments of threat posture. But your workers still need to be able to do their jobs.

Stringent security policies may provide the greatest reduction in attack surfaces, but the reality is that if they disrupt day-to-day business too much, users will eventually ignore them. Using legacy tools to address modern threats can become an effort to limit employee and endpoint capability rather than enabling it. And data breaches like the Equifax incident show us that people will inevitably choose convenience over security.

Agile, automated patch management increases productivity rather than limiting it by taking out the manual steps that are often the first to be ignored. For IT Operations and SecOps teams, automation gives them time back by handling the mundane but incredibly important jobs of inventorying and scanning servers and workstations for vulnerabilities. For your workforce, a platform like Automox keeps them safe without requiring them to log in through a VPN portal. The secure Automox agent requires only an internet connection to scan and update an endpoint. Workers stay safe without having to think about it or perform any administrative tasks.

And as more companies move services to the cloud, it’s more important than ever to have a solution that can easily navigate legacy and modern tech in your IT ecosystem.

Cloud Patch Platforms for Cloud Computing

With the rush to add bandwidth and capability to support a dispersed workforce connecting remotely, many companies are moving to cloud servers and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The move provides obvious benefits in reduced capital infrastructure and upkeep costs. However, there is nothing inherently more secure about working in the cloud. The basic challenges of cybersecurity are still present: a variety of workstations and remote devices communicating with servers. Except now, you have less visibility over your network.

Whether you’re using Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, or other IaaS services, the responsibility for patching cloud servers is still up to you. Once again, we are dealing with an entirely new set of IT operations and security challenges that did not exist and could not be envisioned when legacy patch management tools were created.

Bad actors don’t differentiate between vulnerabilities that are on-premises or in the cloud, so your patching and security efforts must cover them all. Automox is cloud-native and designed to give you seamless control of both on-premises and cloud resources.

Cloud-Native Patch Management Drives Agility

Agile IT operations use automated patch management because adaptability is a competitive advantage. As a cloud-native, SaaS platform, Automox has the flexibility to adapt with your business and provide the agile service you need to support your workforce.

By removing the need for additional infrastructure and its required maintenance, organizations leveraging cloud-based services no longer have to worry about versioning and potential downtime during upgrades. SaaS solutions are always up to date and enable faster rollout of new features and functionality.

Increasing access and remote bandwidth to keep your dispersed workforce productive doesn’t mean having to accept risk exposure. With the right solution, your security can adapt along with your business allowing you to work through disruption instead of being derailed by it.

About Automox Automated Patch Management

Facing growing threats and a rapidly expanding attack surface, understaffed and alert-fatigued organizations need more efficient ways to eliminate their exposure to vulnerabilities. Automox is a modern cyber hygiene platform that closes the aperture of attack by more than 80% with just half the effort of traditional solutions.

Cloud-native and globally available, Automox enforces OS & third-party patch management, security configurations, and custom scripting across Windows, macOS, and Linux from a single intuitive console. IT and SecOps can quickly gain control and share visibility of on-prem, remote and virtual endpoints without the need to deploy costly infrastructure.

Experience modern, cloud-native patch management today with a 15-day free trial of Automox and start recapturing more than half the time you're currently spending on managing your attack surface. Automox dramatically reduces corporate risk while raising operational efficiency to deliver best-in-class security outcomes, faster and with fewer resources.