Patch Management Risks


The term patch triggers many familiar scenarios which include the duct tape repairs of different objects, affixing a rubber patch to a blown bicycle tire and much more. While these temporary fixes won’t heal the fundamental cause, they are easy and quick solutions.

Our software and applications need patches in order to fix security flaws, bugs and add feature developments. However, in this case, patching is not a temporary task, but a proactive planned technique. 

Patch management is more than just updating and repairing IT software. It remediates vulnerabilities and manages risk. Patching is a sub-category of risk-based prioritization and software lifecycle management. Once you detect a critical vulnerability in the applications or operating system, you need to seek a resolution. It may involve removing an old certificate, changing a configuration or updating software with a patch. 

Applying patches to hardware and software applications may bring about additional risks to the IT environment because patches are programs and may have their own set of vulnerabilities. If a patching process is not handled properly it may lead to system crashes or damage hardware devices. 

IT security professionals and cybersecurity experts should consider these risks when implementing their patch management services: 

  1. Invalidated Patches

The source of each patch must be validated by scrutinizing the acquiring source and patch signature to determine only authenticated patches are applied to organization information systems. It has been reported that some cybercriminals sent fake Microsoft security patch emails with malicious content.

Additionally, some complex patches need domain expertise to examine the certain perquisites and dependency metadata before the installation. Failure to do so may cause severe consequences such as unpredictable system behaviors, data corruption or service outage.

  1. Insufficient Testing

Many organizations' information systems are connected and have interfaces among them to exchange data. Applying patches to a system in the production environment without adequate testing may bring negative impact to other applications such as incompatible communication protocol, data formats or interface logic. 

  1. Vulnerabilities in Patch Management System 

If patch management is used to implement an automated patching tool, the security vulnerabilities might have an impact on other information systems. A breached or virus-infected patch management system will be a central distribution point that transmits malware and viruses. 

Additionally, a patch management system protected with weak access controls creates an additional channel for cyber attackers to gain unauthorized access to the organization's IT environment or launch attacks on the essential information systems. 

  1. Downtime and Interruption

With the increase in complexity of the program, patches are released regularly and need longer time spent on installation on the target information systems. Patching tasks, if not done professionally, may lead to frequent interruption to organizations' operations and prolonged service downtime because of large patches. 

  1. Incorrect Identification and Installation

Detection and deployment of security patches is a major feature of the patch management and software patching process. Some sophisticated applications have functions embedded to detect application security patches and offer needed guidelines on the patch installation processes. Making use of alternative means to identify and install patches is risky because the reliability and accuracy will not be guaranteed by the vendors. 

  1. Inadequate Fallback Procedures

Sometimes the vendor may publish a patch that has errors and leads to different issues related to patch systems. If organizations do not have the right fallback processes, the adverse effect imposed by that patch issue can’t be quickly reversed until the vendor provides another patch to fix the mistake.

Accelerating Risk Prioritization Requires Knowing Your Top Vulnerabilities

Effective risk management requires comprehensive research and the evaluation of a wide range of data. This is essential for assisting organizations to respond to ongoing vulnerabilities and apply risk-based prioritization. Rationalized prioritization procedures, defined police and well-organized data directly impact the effectiveness and reliability of how vulnerabilities are addressed.

A mature risk-based prioritization practice addresses known vulnerabilities that are rated by importance. On the day Microsoft releases updates, they include documentation that shows vulnerabilities known to be exploited in the wild. They also release other updates that are not known to be actively exploited and those have lower priority. However, it’s essential to know how risk priorities can shift, so we can better prioritize our activities to best respond to all critical risks.

A mature risk-based prioritization approach leverages many data sources which include vulnerability trends by threat actors. It includes an automated process that feeds data sources, analyzes and prioritizes risks, and lists activities in priority order to quickly mitigate risk.

Challenges with Patch Management Risk Priority by Vendor

Managing patch risk priority by focusing on vendor-defined severities can fall short of the mark. Risk-based prioritization takes a broad focus on risk metrics, rather than depending on a single vendor’s severity. The major thing is identifying, prioritizing and mitigating all critical vulnerabilities which include additional data points to classify the most critical risks to your environment. A single vendor severity simply is not enough.

There are many cases where the vendor’s prioritization does not reflect real-world risk. Due to the nature of how vendors classify severity, a vulnerability could be classified as important, but known to be actively exploited on the day an update was released. Additional risk metrics like publicly disclosed and exploited vulnerabilities must be considered. Even telemetry on what is trending among cybercriminals will focus priorities to ensure the most dangerous threats are quickly resolved.

An Evolutionary Process to Solving Patch Management Risks

Mature risk-based prioritization encompasses an ecosystem with different solutions and vendors working together. An effective integration process and intelligence gathering must bridge the gap between threat intelligence solutions, security vulnerability assessments and patch management.

Vicarius is helping to bridge this gap. Vicarius takes the vulnerability assessment and other patch data, feeds it into process management, prioritizes vulnerabilities and drives suitable actions into the patch management system for quick remediation. 

Vicarius helps users easily research, prioritize and get better insights for patch management in a central location. Vicarius is a vulnerability management software that targets cybersecurity officers and operators, as well as IT managers and operators from the U.S. market. 


Photo by Loic Leray on Unsplash

Written by Kent Weigle

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