Risks (and Remedies) of Failed Patch Management

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    Patch management is a vital part of maintaining a healthy IT infrastructure. It can be the difference between having the latest and greatest software and operating system or being stuck with an older version vulnerable to security threats. It involves the process of identifying, testing, and deploying updates to help keep your systems protected from known vulnerabilities. Ensuring that patches are installed on all organizational devices and applied correctly can be challenging for IT admins. If implemented properly, however, security patch management can greatly benefit your business.

    patch management risks & remedies
    Ineffective Patch Management

    Patch Management Risks – Stats you Need to Know

    • 55% spend more time manually navigating the various processes involved than actually patching vulnerabilities that lead to backlogs
    • 57% of companies that had one or more data breaches say these breaches could have occurred because a patch was available but not applied
    • 86% of organizations believe that data breaches occur because patch management is poorly executed
    • 53% of organizations’ response to threats and security incidents is reactive in nature

    Risks of Ineffective Patch Management

    Patch management is an important security step that organizations need to address. If not, poor patching can lead to the following risks.

    1. Security Vulnerability

    Vulnerability refers to a weakness in software, hardware, or systems that malicious actors can exploit. Vulnerabilities can be found in both operating systems and applications. They can also occur due to poor design choices or coding errors. Vulnerabilities are one of the most common causes of failed patches because they require security patch management processes with adequate controls over access to affected systems and networks.

    2. Phishing and social engineering attacks

    Social engineering involves tricking someone into revealing information or enabling access to data networks. Phishing is a popular attack that involves an email or a text pretending to be from a trusted resource asking for information. Malicious actors look for open doors or missing patches during a phishing scheme. 

    3. Lost data, leakage, and theft

    Recently published research shows that unpatched vulnerabilities are responsible for over 60% of data breaches. Surprisingly, organizations actively look for vulnerabilities, but their patch management solution or processes could be better. Another reason for data breaches is organizations often refrain from patching to avoid costly business disruptions and downtime.

    4. Regulatory compliance violation

    Compliance and audit failures may occur when businesses fail to patch vulnerabilities immediately or implement inadequate patch management processes. If your organization’s network devices aren’t receiving regular updates, it may affect your compliance with critical cybersecurity standards or industry regulations. For example, HIPAA, or the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal law requiring healthcare organizations to comply with privacy regulations. Poor patch compliance on your network can impede your regulatory compliance.

    5. Customer safety risk

    When you think of patch management, you probably imagine that it’s a process to ensure the security of your software. But what about the safety of your customers? Customers may be attacked with malware that steals data from their devices or continues stealing money from them after they’ve paid for products. Customers could also be targeted for financial gain if someone uses their system as part of an attack against another company and successfully steals intellectual property (IP) or other information that belongs to another company.

    Remedies When Patching Goes Wrong

    1. Test patches

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Testing patches in a test environment before going into production is important. Testing the patches on different hardware with different software versions does not necessarily guarantee that the patching test results will have the same outcome in a production environment. However, verifying a patch bundle in a test environment will greatly reduce the chances of issues when installing updates.

    2. Installing patches after restart

    Some patches require a reboot to take effect. But the newly installed patches may go missing after the machines restart. For instance, all the installed patches on Windows machines can roll back after restart with the message ‘Failure configuring Windows updates. Reverting changes.’ This error frequently appears when trying to upgrade to newer versions of Windows. Updates can fail due to a variety of reasons, such as:

    • Existing software installed on the computer is not compatible with the Windows update.
    • Too many Windows updates are trying to load at once.
    • The Windows update itself causes an issue.

    IT admins can carry out the following fixes to resolve this issue.

    1. Disable anti-virus and deploy patches – If an antivirus program has an issue with an upgrade, it may block it before the update process begins. Sometimes, the patches are installed successfully and later fail after restart. It is recommended to pause third-party antivirus temporarily before upgrading and enable  Windows Defender during the upgrade process.
    2. Install updates in a clean boot state  – A clean boot starts Windows with an initial set of drivers and startup programs to determine whether a background program or third-party service is interfering with the upgrade. It is similar to starting a Windows in Safe Mode but provides more control over which third-party services run at the start to isolate the cause of the problem.
    3. Clear Windows update cache – The system automatically caches all the Windows update installation files when checking for updates. Sometimes bugged updates or corrupt files in the cached folder may create problems with updates and installation. Clearing the Windows update cache can fix most update and installation-related issues.

    3. Roll back problematic patches

    Scalefusion lets IT admins roll back individual patches when updates break something. If a patch is found to result in an application or OS system failure, these patches can be uninstalled and restored to a point before the update installation.

    patch management risks
    Roll back problematic patches for OS and third-party apps for Windows

    Patch Management Best Practices

    The importance of patch management can’t be stressed enough. Patching provides your organization with a strong security posture by focusing on a rapid response to security incidents. Establishing robust patching tools and mechanisms aligns priorities between IT security and operations to ensure immediate remediation.

    Assess risks

    The first step in any patch management strategy is risk assessment. A thorough analysis of your environment and business needs should help you identify all the risks that could affect your organization. Once you know what risks exist and how they could affect your organization, you can design a mitigation strategy tailored to your environment.

    Identify vulnerabilities

    Once you’ve identified the threats that pose the biggest risk to your business operations, it’s time to find out which ones have already been identified and which haven’t yet been patched. This information will help you prioritize which vulnerabilities must be patched immediately and which can wait until later.

    Investigate patches for specific vulnerabilities

    If there are patches available for a particular vulnerability, you should investigate whether they’re going to be effective in protecting your organization from attacks or if there are other options available that would provide better protection at a lower cost. 

    Create a patching schedule

    Creating a schedule helps you estimate when new patches will be released and how long to implement them. If multiple versions of an update exist, test each version before deploying it to production for real-world testing purposes.

    Ensure competence

    Include training in the company’s policy manual on installing and using each type of software tool or utility (such as antivirus software or firewall appliances). Ensure all employees are aware of their responsibilities for maintaining security within the company. You should also make sure that all staff members know the consequences if they don’t follow the policies correctly.

    Centralize and automate

    One of the main reasons companies feel a delay in patching vulnerabilities is due to manual patching processes. To improve the patch management process, companies should consider replacing manual processes with automated solutions that can prevent business disruptions and downtime. Having a centralized dashboard gives you a degree of control over the patching process. 

    For example, Scalefusion MDM for Windows will automatically download missing patches from Microsoft and deploy them on vulnerable Windows devices in your network. Post-deployment, you can track the status of the patches from the centralized dashboard. 

    Be proactive

    Patching vulnerabilities may involve downtime, which may be detrimental to daily business operations. Taking a proactive approach to the patching processes will help your organization from frequently undergoing emergency patching mode. The process involves applying patches or software updates, reconfiguring network settings, or replacing outdated systems.

    Wrapping Up

    In today’s complex IT landscape, organizations can improve their security posture by regularly patching their operating systems and applications. With a centralized patch management system, you can keep all your devices updated, regardless of location. Learn how Scalefusion MDM allows your IT admins to automate patch processes. Sign-up for a 14-day free trial.

    References –

    1. Service Now
    2. Ponemon Institute
    Rajnil Thakur
    Rajnil Thakur
    Rajnil is a Senior Content Writer at Scalefusion. He’s been a B2B marketer for over 8 years and applies the power of content marketing to simplify complex technology and business ideas.

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