Why security patches are not a plan, but only part of one

Why security patches are not a plan but only part of one

Patches are undoubtedly an essential component of a cyber security strategy. They can be used to address vulnerabilities, resolve issues or improve solutions. However, a patch work approach alone is simply no longer sufficient.

The current digital landscape, with many employees continuing to work from home, means most organisations’ attack surfaces are so much wider and less contained than before. Businesses need a comprehensive plan that includes patch management and vulnerability management as part of an overarching strategy aimed at mitigating and managing cyber security risk.  

A place for patches

Patches are useful tools, ensuring that updates can be pushed out, vulnerabilities addressed and recommended configuration changes made across an organisation. Patches are typically a retrospective development to address an identified problem. They can also be a ‘workaround’ to ensure applications continue to function when the operating system they rely on is no longer being supported.  

Often, patches are a compensating control, a way of mitigating risk without actually fixing the underlying problem but are addressing the risk. However, this does not mean patches themselves are the problem or that they have no place in a digital world. On the contrary, they are extremely useful when deployed in the right scenario.  

All businesses must accept some level of risk, and patches are a common way of mitigating it to acceptable levels. However, it is absolutely essential to understand the risks first and foremost, so that the most appropriate decisions can be made. This is why a cyber security strategy is key.  

Digital acceleration

To contextualise, over the course of 2020, digitalisation accelerated and work from home became a far more common scenario. Businesses are no longer able to maintain their technology in a contained environment, and connecting vulnerable systems introduces risk. As a result, vulnerability management has evolved beyond patching and scanning. Businesses today need to understand their vulnerabilities on a whole new plane, to determine the level of actual risk and therefore the most appropriate action to take.  

Organisations cannot simply open up their perimeter and hope for the best. Cyber security needs to be strategically linked to the business and based on an understanding of how any decision will affect the business, its processes and its users. Any security decisions will have an impact on the business – for example, a security system may address a risk, but may degrade the user experience.  

Part of the plan

There is a significant difference between a patch work approach and having a plan. While patches may indeed be an important part of a plan, businesses need a long-term strategy with controls and systems interlinked to protect all components. The key is to understand the risk, and the business, and develop a strategy around both of those, with a proper vulnerability and patch management strategy and program in place. It is also important to test your strategy and measure the success of the plan to ensure it works.  

Engaging with a specialist cybersecurity partner will help businesses ensure their strategy is sound and plans are executed effectively to ensure vulnerabilities are managed and risks mitigated to an acceptable level.

By Simeon Tassev MD and QSA at Galix