Cloud Platform
Contact us
Asset Management
Vulnerability & Configuration Management
Risk Remediation
Threat Detection & Response
  • Overview
  • Platform Apps

  • Qualys Endpoint Security

    Advanced endpoint threat protection, improved threat context, and alert prioritization

  • Context XDR

    Extend detection and response beyond the endpoint to the enterprise

Cloud Security

Patch Management: Defined

This guide will define patch management, explore its significance, the role of patch management software, and how Qualys provides advanced solutions for securing your digital infrastructure.

What is Patch Management?

Patch management is a critical aspect of cybersecurity, involving managing updates for software applications and technologies. It includes identifying, acquiring, installing, and verifying software applications and systems' patches (updates or fixes). Effective patch management is vital for correcting security vulnerabilities, enhancing functionality, and ensuring the operational integrity of software.

“Security is a moving target, and there is always a mountain of work for us to do. Thanks to the Qualys solution, our priorities for remediation aren't subjective any longer. We can make clear, data-driven decisions about what to target first.”
- Ravi Monga, Director of Cybersecurity, Children's Mercy Kansas City

Understanding Patch Management Software

A patch management tool simplifies the complexity of keeping software up to date. It provides a centralized platform for monitoring software versions, identifying required patches, and deploying these updates across various devices. This ensures that all endpoints within an organization are secured against known vulnerabilities, enhancing overall cybersecurity posture. The cybersecurity attack surface continues to grow exponentially. Modern technologies are being deployed on-premises and in the cloud as part of digital transformation journeys. Meanwhile, the current practice of identifying, classifying, prioritizing, and remediating vulnerabilities has become strained and ineffective for many enterprises

One thing is clear when speaking to CISOs, CIOs, and practitioners at Qualys customer organizations and beyond. Many struggle to keep up amidst the cyber risk crisis exacerbated by several trends. These include the exponential increase in exploits, too many cybersecurity tools, IT complexity, the industry skills gap, and internal misalignment between security and IT teams. The result is prolonged exposure to business risk (see Figure 1).

Patch Management Best Practices

Implementing patch management best practices is vital for any organization looking to fortify its defenses against cyberattacks. These practices include:

  • Prioritization of Patches: Understanding that vulnerabilities differ in the threat level is fundamental. It's crucial to prioritize patch implementation based on the severity of the vulnerability and the organizational value of the affected asset. This strategic approach ensures that critical vulnerabilities are addressed promptly, minimizing potential risks.
  • Automation: Streamlining the patch management process through automation is a game-changer. It accelerates the deployment of necessary patches, effectively narrowing the window for potential cyber exploits. Automation enhances efficiency and significantly reduces the likelihood of human error in the patching process.
  • Testing: It is imperative to implement a rigorous testing protocol for patches before their organization-wide deployment. This step is critical to ensuring that patches prevent introducing new issues or disrupting existing systems. A controlled testing environment allows for the safe assessment of patches, guaranteeing smooth integration into the network.
  • Documentation and Reporting: Maintaining meticulous records of all patching activities is vital for compliance and security. Detailed documentation should include information on the deployment timeline, personnel involved, and the specific reasons for each patch's application. Such records are invaluable for auditing and contribute to a transparent and accountable cybersecurity strategy.
  • Continuous Monitoring: A proactive stance on monitoring for new vulnerabilities and available patches is essential for swift threat mitigation. Constant scanning and assessment allow organizations to react quickly to new threats, ensuring their systems are always protected with the latest patches.

Vulnerability and Patch Management

Vulnerability and patch management go hand in hand. While vulnerability management involves identifying, classifying, prioritizing, and addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities, patch management updates systems to remediate identified vulnerabilities. Together, they form a robust defense mechanism against cyber threats, ensuring that vulnerabilities are promptly addressed through appropriate patches.

What is Vulnerability Remediation?

Vulnerability remediation is the process of identifying, classifying, prioritizing, and resolving security vulnerabilities in software and systems. It is a critical component of cybersecurity management, ensuring that potential security threats are addressed before they can be exploited by malicious actors. This process involves systematically detecting vulnerabilities through scanning and assessments, followed by applying patches, updates, or configuration changes to mitigate risks. Vulnerability remediation helps organizations protect sensitive data, maintain compliance with regulatory standards, and uphold the integrity and availability of their IT infrastructure, thereby strengthening their defense against cyberattacks and enhancing their overall security stance.

What is Vulnerability Mitigation?

Vulnerability mitigation refers to the set of actions taken to reduce the severity, impact, or likelihood of vulnerabilities being exploited in software or systems without fully resolving the underlying issue. It is an essential aspect of risk management and cybersecurity practices, focusing on minimizing the potential damage that vulnerabilities could cause to an organization's assets and operations. This can involve implementing temporary fixes, adjusting configurations, applying security controls, or adopting alternative protective measures until a permanent solution, such as a patch or software update, can be deployed. Vulnerability mitigation is crucial for maintaining operational continuity, protecting sensitive information, and safeguarding against threats when immediate remediation is not feasible, ensuring that organizations can continue to operate securely despite known security weaknesses.

What is Patching?

Patching is the process of applying updates to software or systems to correct security vulnerabilities, fix bugs, or improve functionality. It involves the installation of pieces of code—known as patches—into existing software applications or operating system software. These patches are released by software vendors and developers to address specific issues that have been identified after the software's initial release. The purpose of patching is to protect computing resources from known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber attackers, thereby enhancing the security and stability of the software. Regular patch management is a critical component of IT security strategies, as it helps prevent security breaches and ensures that software continues to run efficiently and effectively. Patching can be done manually or automatically, with many organizations opting for automated patch management systems to ensure timely updates across all devices and applications.

First-Party Software and Third-Party Patching

First-party software developed in-house or provided by primary vendors forms the backbone of many organizations' operational tools and systems. Patch management for these applications is usually more straightforward, given the direct control and access to the source code and update mechanisms. However, a robust internal process is required to monitor, test, and deploy updates efficiently.

Third-party software created by external entities introduces additional complexities into the patch management process. Relying on external vendors for timely updates and integrating these patches without disrupting existing systems can be a significant challenge. Organizations must carefully manage these relationships and have strategies to quickly apply updates as they become available.

Embedded OSS and custom software introduce additional layers to the patch management strategy. Embedded OSS, often found in various hardware and software solutions, requires diligent monitoring for vulnerabilities specific to open-source components. The open-source nature of these components means that while vulnerabilities and patches are publicly disclosed, applying these patches falls on the organization using the software. Custom software, tailored to the organization's specific needs, demands an internal development and patching lifecycle to address newly discovered vulnerabilities or functionality enhancements. This requires dedicated resources for continuous monitoring, development, testing, and deployment of patches.

What is Patchless Patching?

Patchless patching is a cybersecurity approach that mitigates vulnerabilities without applying traditional patches. Instead, protective measures are implemented to shield the vulnerable software from exploitation, such as through configuration changes or virtual environments. This method can be beneficial when applying a traditional patch, which is not feasible or would disrupt critical services.

What is Virtual Patching?

Virtual patching is a security technique that temporarily addresses vulnerabilities in software by implementing a security policy or mechanism to block attacks targeting the vulnerability. This approach does not modify the vulnerable software but provides an interim protective layer until a permanent patch can be applied. Virtual patching is essential for protecting systems against zero-day vulnerabilities and when patches are not immediately available.

Qualys Patch Management Solutions:

Qualys offers cutting-edge solutions for patch management, addressing the complex challenges of securing modern IT environments. Its platform provides comprehensive vulnerability and patch management capabilities, including support for first and third-party patching, virtual patching, and advanced strategies like patchless patching. With Qualys, organizations can ensure their digital assets remain secure, compliant, and up to date against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.