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Your First Line of Defense: Patch and Configuration Management

Patch and Configuration Management: Adding To Your First Line of Defense

If you’ve paid attention to the cybersecurity headlines lately, it’s likely that you’ve become familiar with names like Lovsan, Klez, Blaster, Yaha, and Nachi, which represents only a sample of the most prevalent viruses that often find their way into an organization’s networks. Luckily, patches are readily available to deal with these viruses and prevent further damage.

Patch management is a vital process of systems management as most software requires patches to fix existing problems that may be discovered after the initial release.

Another cyber security essential is configuration management. It ensures that your organization’s tools are providing the intended protection. Misconfigurations could lead to incomplete or inconsistent protection or worse, a breach.

In this post, we’ll look at patching and configuration management, why they’re important, and what businesses can do to ensure their patching and configuration management processes support maximum protection.

What is Patch and Configuration Management?

Patch management is a set of processes tailored to identify, assess, prioritize, and perform patch deployment to address system vulnerabilities or bugs.

Common areas that need frequent patches include applications, operating systems, and embedded systems like network equipment. When a vulnerability is identified after a release of software, a patch can be used to remediate it, to help ensure the systems in your environment aren’t prone to threats and exploitation.

Configuration management, on the other hand, is a process that ensures the configuration of system resources, applications, computer systems, servers, and other assets are known, trusted, and monitored continuously for changes. A configuration management process ensures that components are configured to optimize correct settings, functionality, compatibility, and performance. Proper configuration management further ensures that risks and vulnerabilities are minimized to the greatest extent possible.

Why Is It important?

Every year more than 60 percent of small-to-medium-sized businesses are compromised by hackers, and these intruders are finding new ways to access your valuable data systems on a daily basis. The worst part? Unpatched systems are the most vulnerable. According to Poneman Institute, nearly 60 percent of data breaches for the past two years were attributed to unpatched software, and 43 percent of organizations were aware of the vulnerability beforehand but hadn’t gotten around to dealing with the problem.

Patch management helps to remediate vulnerabilities within your applications and software that are exposed to cyber attacks, helping your company reduce its security risk. It also ensures that systems are up-to-date and will operate correctly, reducing the chances of downtime which further improves productivity. Since companies are increasingly required to follow cybersecurity best practices, patch management ensures you stay compliant with these standards and avoid legal penalties for your business.

Once the system is patched successfully, it’s equally important to make sure these systems are configured correctly. Configuration is what makes these systems work optimally. Properly configuring systems and applications will ensure that your organization gets the best performance and utilizes all of the functionality of the platform. Configuration also involves “hardening” the system or application to prevent an attack by minimizing the services offered. A proper configuration management process will monitor these platforms for changes to their baseline configuration which could indicate a potential active attack or the introduction of a vulnerability.

Top Challenges with Patch and Configuration Management

Triaging Patches

Determining the appropriate time to install patches, which patches to install first, and the testing of patches are among the few major challenges when performing patch management. In fact, 37 percent of companies admitted that they don’t even scan for vulnerabilities, and nearly 65 percent of companies also indicate that it’s currently too difficult for them to decide correctly on which patches to prioritize or which update to apply first.

Manual Patching

Manual endpoint patching is also a top reason why patching is delayed. It’s not only time-consuming but also complicated and disruptive to end-users. On average it takes about 12 days for teams to coordinate patch deployment across all devices. There is also an added concern if a patch requires a system reboot, especially for servers, significant downtime and lost business is a likely result. Testing of patches before implementation is also a challenge in patch management. While it’s important to test patches for stability, the process can be difficult for some companies who may lack the appropriate hardware and software or human resources to test the updates and patches.

Complex Architecture

Effective configuration management (CM) is a critical component when it comes to building and maintaining a quality architecture. However, challenges to CM arise especially in large networks with complex architectures. This could be because components are constantly upgraded and introduced at run-time, which affects the configuration of the entire system. Misconfigurations have been responsible for 37 percent of all successful attacks for the last two years.

Addressing the Challenges with Patch and Configuration Management

So, how do you set up patching and configuration management to address these challenges? Here are simple ways to get started:

Design, Document, and Deploy Patch and Configuration Management Processes

Patches need to be assessed for impact, prioritized by criticality, and tested for compatibility prior to deployment. Ensuring that this process is as efficient and as effective as possible, it is important to design and document a patch management process that engages all appropriate stakeholders. The process should also have clear ownership and effective metrics to ensure its proper execution.

Take Advantage of Tools to Automate the Processes

One of the best practices to prevent patching fatigue and misconfiguration is automating these processes as much as possible. It includes taking advantage of vulnerability management tools, patch deployment tools, configuration management tools that employ a configuration management database (CMDB) and identify changes to baselines and endpoint configurations.

Integrate and Deploy Technologies

Having designed the patch and configuration management processes and identified which implementation method to start with, it’s time to integrate the configuration and patch management tools into your environment. During deployment, use the distribution tool you already use for normal system updates. No need to reinvent the wheel. Make sure the components are deployed properly with the right security protocols. Once deployed, validate that the systems are running and they are communicating well with the server.

Effective Reporting

It’s important to keep track and measure the efficacy of your patch and configuration management processes. Make sure you include compliance reports to show all devices comply with baseline standards, application and vendor reports to show which vendors issue more patches, and trend reports to show the value of the tools used and how teams and operating processes are performing.

Accountability for Process Performance

The key to understanding the efficacy of your patch management program is knowing what metrics to measure to track performance. Organizations should be concerned with the progress in deploying security systems, certain security controls, and other related processes and policies. It’s also important to track the operations, implementations, and outcomes of system-level security controls, and program-based processes.

Together, these metrics provide a clear picture of how well patch management programs and configuration efforts are working and what areas need improvement. By measuring process performance, challenges and issues within your system can be detected earlier before a vulnerability gets exploited.

To Summarize

Malware and ransomware that attack known vulnerabilities have been on the rise for the past few years, and malicious individuals are using increasingly sophisticated tactics with every passing minute. Organizations with multiple systems are having a difficult time keeping all of them to date and ensuring information system components are configured correctly.

To keep pace, organizations need a holistic solution that allows them to keep all systems in the environment up-to-date and protected from malicious malware.

This is where ArmorPoint and Pillar Technology’s partnership can help.

Pillar Technology Partners, LLC is a professional services company built on providing a holistic view of Information Security. Our team are highly experienced Security Practitioners with deep expertise in Governance, Security Operations and Information Security Technology. We assist our clients in designing and implementing strong Information Security programs that address the full spectrum of today’s threats. We also provide security leadership through our CISO and Security Engineer as a Service programs.

ArmorPoint’s fully managed SIEM platform ensures your network is secure at all times. Its vulnerability management capabilities allow the business to continuously scan your network's malicious activities, securely mitigate risks and formulate response mechanisms in the future to minimize network vulnerabilities. Additionally, ArmorPoint ensures that critical network configurations are secure from an internal or external threat.

Our partnership brings together the best tools and expertise to solve any cybersecurity challenge.

So, do you want to automate your system for effective vulnerability management and real-time configuration management? Pillar Technology Partners and ArmorPoint will help you get started.


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