What is the Best Vulnerability and Patch Management Process?
Following vulnerability and patch management best practices should be a goal for organizations of every size. Vulnerability management refers to the process of discovering, identifying, cataloging, remediating, and mitigating vulnerabilities found in software or hardware, while patch management refers to the process of identifying, testing, deploying, and verifying patches for operating systems and applications found on devices.
Vulnerability and patch management processes tend to go hand-in-hand, however, they are two very different, but necessary, steps for effective cyber hygiene, endpoint hardening, and attack surface reduction. By engaging in both vulnerability and patch management best practices, organizations can take a proactive approach to vulnerability remediation and mitigation. Patching vulnerabilities is a key element for cyber hygiene best practices and is a critical step in endpoint security.
As the digital landscape evolves, many organizations are finding that the “old way” of doing things is overly cumbersome and contributes to major slow-down in their vulnerability and patch management workflows. Modern solutions for cyber hygiene are multi-faceted in their approach to securing systems and can help bridge the gaps between these two essential operations.
Best Practices for Vulnerability and Patch Management
Employing vulnerability and patch management best practices can help organizations minimize their attack surface and protect their endpoints. Speed and efficiency are critical to strong vulnerability patching protocols. By following best practices, organizations can ensure their vulnerability and patch management processes are moving in the right direction, at the right pace. However, many organizations struggle with identifying and resolving vulnerabilities in a timely manner and legacy patch management protocols can be inefficient.
Barriers to vulnerability management best practices
Vulnerability management is typically considered part of security operations and teams will often utilize on-premise scanners to accomplish the task of scanning for vulnerabilities. However, most on-premise scanners are just discovery tools and have limited functionality beyond that task. Most on-premise vulnerability scanners are not able to scan devices that are not connected to the local network; this presents a huge challenge for remote devices. And as more organizations shift away from conventional infrastructure and towards the cloud, the previous generation of vulnerability detection tools becomes more obsolete.
Patch management is typically considered part of IT operations and requires a separate set of tools. Like legacy vulnerability detection tools, older patch management protocols can be limited when handling the needs of more modern infrastructure. In both arenas, staff may need multiple tools, agents or consoles to best meet their organization’s needs. A typical workflow might start with security operations running a vulnerability scan, identifying a vulnerability, creating a ticket, and then sending their request to IT. From there, IT has to deploy the patch, determine its success and communicate that information back to SecOps by updating the associated ticket. Finally, SecOps verifies and closes the loop on the ticket. At its best, this process involves at least two handoffs and can take several days to accomplish in ideal conditions. Adding complexities like patch windows, critical servers with zero tolerance for outages, or failed patches can quickly bloat this process.
The limitations of older technologies can create multiple inefficiencies across an organization’s vulnerability and patch management workflows, which can cause a significant slow-down in the vulnerability patching process. However, newer tools can help streamline these processes, boosting speed and efficiency.
What do vulnerability best practices include?
For vulnerability and patch management processes to function at their best, organizations first need a complete inventory of their systems, as well as full endpoint visibility. Knowing what software and hardware may be vulnerable is key to vulnerability management; being unable to detect and resolve problems on devices or software that aren’t being accounted for can be a risk to endpoint security.
Endpoint visibility is also critical to protecting and hardening; with full, real-time visibility, IT and SecOps teams can know what is vulnerable and what has been patched successfully right away and with confidence.
Speed of patch deployment is another critical element of best practices. New regulations from HIPAA and PCI dictate that organizations who need to follow their standards must deploy critical security updates within 30 days of release, and we are likely to see more cybersecurity regulations in the future. The current average time-to-patch window sits at 102 days; attackers can weaponize a known vulnerability in seven days or less -- and most data breaches related to a newly disclosed vulnerability will occur within three months of disclosure. Speed of vulnerability patching is a major concern for many organizations, and delays are a common occurrence in the legacy vulnerability and patch management paradigm.
Legacy Processes Limit Performance
Many legacy vulnerability and patch management tools are similar in terms of their limitations: These are often on-premise, single-use tools that are sometimes good at what they do, but not much else. While these tools may not be broken in the truest sense of the word, that does not mean organizations are doing themselves any favors by continuing to rely on outdated technology. The digital landscape has evolved in recent years. Many organizations now utilize an array of different operating systems and third-party applications to meet their needs, and a single employee may represent multiple different endpoints -- some of which may be remote.
Modern infrastructure can be incredibly diverse, however, and the previous generation of tools has not kept pace with an increasingly complex digital space.
For vulnerability and patch management processes to achieve pre-incursion value, IT and SecOps need to be able to catch vulnerabilities and deploy patches at a much faster pace. Legacy processes for vulnerability and patch management typically include archaic tools that do not have the agility or versatility necessary to handle modern infrastructure. Whether you’re dealing with an on-premise vulnerability scanner that can’t reach your remote endpoints, or a legacy patching platform that’s impossible to use with alternative operating systems, reliance on-premise equipment can be a real hindrance to vulnerability and patch management performance. However, a cloud-native, SaaS-based solution can help streamline these efforts.
Consider Cloud-based Alternatives for Vulnerability Patching
Cloud-based endpoint hardening solutions, like Automox, can replace lethargic legacy patching and vulnerability management processes and provide organizations with the control, speed and agility they need to secure their systems. While vulnerability management and patch management have previously been seen as separate entities, requiring separate tools, Automox recognizes the inherent connections between vulnerability and patch management protocols -- and gives users more functionality for achieving best practices.
With a modern endpoint hardening solution, users can accelerate the remediation workflow by proactively identifying missed patches and automatically updating affected devices. The Automox platform doesn’t rely on a vulnerability scanner and eliminates the delays commonly associated with remediation. Automating patch compliance helps organizations secure their systems more efficiently and removes much of the manual labor associated with the vulnerability patching process.
Cutting costs with the cloud
A tool like Automox can help organizations realize vulnerability and patch management workflows that provide pre-incursion value and are cost-effective. Legacy patch management tools, in particular, are known for carrying an array of hidden costs and labor. On-premise patching tools require significant time investments, from employee training to configuration and maintenance. These legacy options often have limited use cases, so staff may need multiple tools to patch diverse operating systems and third party applications -- and these tools will also cost money to implement and maintain.
When all the inefficiencies and limitations of legacy technology are taken into account, the cost burden quickly becomes prohibitive. Conversely, cloud-native endpoint hardening solutions like Automox can help eliminate much of the labor and complexity associated with on-premise patching tools -- while also reducing the overall costs associated with vulnerability and patch management by up to 80 percent.
A solution for the future
Cloud-based technology also offers more in terms of scalability and extensibility. As remote workforces continue to expand and become the norm, organizations will need vulnerability and patch management solutions that can grow with them. Legacy patch management solutions do not have the dexterity to handle a growing workforce efficiently. Whether your devices are remote or on-site, on-premise patching solutions can complicate the process.
Managing remote devices with legacy patching platforms is typically done through a VPN connection. VPNs, or virtual private networks, are limited by bandwidth and in many cases, are not really meant to handle large amounts of traffic. In recent times, there has been a huge shift to remote work -- and many organizations say they will be adopting remote work policies for the long term. Cloud-based infrastructure can easily adapt to handle an influx of new hardware or software. Modern endpoint hardening tools like Automox give users more freedom and control to tailor vulnerability and patch management protocols exactly to their needs, even if those needs change over time.
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