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What Is Patching and Why Is It Important?

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Bill Bowman

Fix Vulnerabilities with Effective Patch Management

Software Development and Vulnerabilities

Software development involves the creation of software designed to solve a problem or improve efficiencies within an organization. When writing the code, developers should use secure coding practices, known as development security operations (DevSecOps). Quality testing should also be performed to identify and address any bugs prior to release. Security practitioners should collaborate with the developers in the process. According to Amazon, the components of DevSecOps are:

  • Code analysis
  • Change management
  • Compliance management
  • Threat modeling
  • Security training

DevSecOps incorporates security testing into every step of software development, which reduces the likelihood of vulnerabilities existing and being severe.

How Vulnerabilities Are Discovered and Spread

Despite a development team’s best efforts, no software is perfect. Over time users may discover issues with its functionality. Researchers are often the first to discover bugs and inform software developers of necessary security updates. Bug bounty programs or users may also report bugs. In the worst case, threat actors can discover vulnerabilities in the software. These criminal hackers can choose to leverage the vulnerabilities for their own gains. Marketplaces also exist in the criminal world to sell vulnerabilities to other criminal groups, quasi-legal companies like the NSO Group, and even nation-states.

How Hackers Exploit Vulnerabilities

Hackers and other threat actors can exploit bugs or vulnerabilities in software to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information or systems. They can use this access and exploits to install malicious code, such as ransomware. The deployment of ransomware through a vulnerability is a particularly significant threat. The vulnerability and related newfound access or abilities can also result in data exfiltration of confidential data. The breached information might be customer records, important proprietary information, or other information an organization does not want public.

How Vulnerabilities are Fixed

Patches are pieces of new code that fix the vulnerabilities and errors in piece of software. They are critical for maintaining software security, as it is impossible to mitigate all errors when first developing software. Software developers regularly release updates and patches to fix bugs and loopholes. Regular people apply patches often in the form of phone iOS updates or consumer software upgrades. Just like people patch and update their personal devices, organizations must patch their business software and hardware.

How Patches are Shared

Companies are issuing patches for the software they develop, but how will a company know it’s time to patch? After identifying a bug, software developers will typically inform users and companies using the software through various means of communication:

  • Emails to users
  • In-app/software notifications
  • Press releases and media
  • Website announcements
  • Phone calls if warranted

The goal is to prompt users to update the software to address the vulnerability.

How Vulnerabilities are Rated and Tracked

The US government and the nonprofits they support have made it easier to understand what vulnerabilities exist and their severity. To achieve this, the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database is maintained by MITRE. The CVE’s goal is to categorize and describe publicly disclosed cyber vulnerabilities. The National Vulnerabilities Database (NVD), maintained by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is linked to the CVE and has the same vulnerability database.

Both databases available free of charge to individuals and organizations around the world. Each vulnerability in the database has a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) rating, which indicates the severity of the vulnerability. A low CVSS score indicates a low-risk vulnerability, while a high score indicates a high-risk vulnerability that could have significant impacts if exploited by threat actors. IT leaders should seek to patch vulnerabilities that can impact their organizations, but at the same time, some low-risk vulnerabilities might not be urgent to patch.

What People Should Do

To ensure the security of your software, our number one tip is to always update it with the patches developed by your software vendors. If you’re doing this in-house, you can test the updates on non-production systems or backups to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Customizations and configurations may cause people to fear that an update will break something, so having a backup in place is important in case something unexpected happens. Airiam provides immutable backups with AirGapd™. It’s also essential to document any changes made to the software or customizations that are in place. When an update does happen, checking to ensure that nothing is broken is important.

Finally, working with an MSP or MSSP to handle updates is an excellent idea. These experts use patch management tools and other systems to manage software updates efficiently. AirCTRL is our solution that handles patching. Proactive patching will ensure that you don’t fall victim to hackers using vulnerabilities to execute ransomware attacks and data exfiltration. Having updated software will also help you work as efficiently as possible.

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