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Why it takes so long to patch a vulnerability and how you can speed up the process

Patch Management Vulnerability Remediation

Let’s start with the Why

Patching was already a problem for many companies. Now it’s getting worse. And the claim that ‘we already got a patching solution in place’ is less relevant than ever. With employees all working remotely, systems and applications are scattered, no one wants to potentially cause disruptions, and time and resources are already strained handling other IT issues.

That’s on top of the already poor track record many companies have in patching. In 2018, it took an average of 38 days to patch a vulnerability, granting threat actors more than a month to exploit it. However, this number is misleading, since vulnerabilities that were deemed ‘old’ took sometimes close to a year to patch. Above all, who wants to provide excuses about an ‘average’, after you were breached? Statistics can be brutal if you actually become part of it. 

Which raises a simple, and crucial, question: Why? Why, despite widespread breaches and attacks, does it take organizations so long to fix vulnerabilities, even when there’s a patch readily available? 

Let’s look at how this situation came to be and steps any company can take to speed up remediation without adding more resources or changing priorities. 

Why remediation is so slow

There are any number of ways patching can be bogged down, many of them unique to each company. But there are some general reasons that we see come up again and again that hamper the entire process:

  • The sheer number of vulnerabilities. Reported vulnerabilities have ballooned from an average of 1,300 per year between 1999 and 2004 to an average of 18,000 per year between 2017 and 2020. It’s almost impossible to patch them all, especially if you work manually, but even after a prioritization process, issuing patches can still be overwhelming given the volume.
  • Silos. Security and IT teams don’t always see eye to eye and often have different mandates. Coordinating among multiple teams can be difficult and time-consuming. Not to mention that different teams often use different vulnerability management tools, leaving any insights fragmented at best. 
  • Manual processes. Patching itself isn’t the time suck here. It’s all the legwork teams need to do before and after, from change requests to reboots, that drag out the process. Often you don’t discover roadblocks like low disk space or shut down servers until you’re in the middle of patching, which limits the success of the patching cycle and requires reruns and repeats, while new vulnerabilities already pile up.
  • Lack of orchestration. Even if you have vulnerability remediation and patching tools, it can be tough to patch across all related systems. Instead of focusing on tasks, you need to think through end-to-end playbooks for coordinating all activities around patching, before, during, and after. 

As organizations and the tools they use grow more complex and more siloed, the time it takes to patch a vulnerability grows, and organizations are left vulnerable. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. 

How to accelerate vulnerability remediation

Some of these steps will save a little time, and some will save a lot. Used together, you can build a more efficient patching process that ensures security without eating up a lot of resources. 

  • Discover. If you haven’t already, you need to uncover all the IT assets you have across your entire environment, yes including those ‘shadow IT’ projects. Once you have the full picture, see where you stand in terms of patching, checking against compliance requirements, and your prioritized list of vulnerabilities. 
  • Devise end-to-end workflows. Work across silos, across tools, and across stakeholders to create a repeatable process for the entire patching lifecycle from beginning to end. You’ll save time and headaches by having everyone on the same page about what needs to happen and when to successfully patch. 
  • Predict. Maximize your maintenance window by simulating the success of the upcoming patching cycle before it is executed, using smart algorithms and machine learning. Get actionable insights on how to avoid various errors and roadblocks and ensure shorter downtime and higher success rate of your software patching.
  • Automate. Quit spending time on manual processes. You can automate the entire patching process, freeing your teams to focus on more strategic work without risking breaches and other exploits. Automate your patching across multiple environments, including seamless integration with ITSM change management processes, and enjoy a single-pane-of-glass and continuous compliance. 

Don’t delay patching any longer than you have to. If you’re still dealing with manual processes, wondering how to handle that’ vulnerability scanner data,  and trying to work across silos and butting heads with different stakeholders, it’s time to take a step back, be proactive and automate your patching into a process that’s more efficient and more secure. 

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Shai Toren
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