What is Virtual Patching?

Jan 25, 2022

This article will give you an insight into virtual patching, what makes patching hard for businesses, the value of virtual patching and how to fix virtual patching issues. Let’s get started.

What is Virtual Patching?

Virtual patching is the process of developing and deploying a short-term strategy to reduce the risks of exploitation that are connected with the discovery of new security vulnerabilities. It removes the possibility of hackers finding and exploiting application or system security flaws. 

The main objective of virtual patching is to stop malicious actors from gaining access to a vulnerable application while implementing security solutions. 

It enables developers and security administrators to keep a system or application functional until a vulnerability solution is discovered, developed and tested. The patch is installed on a few host systems and can be replicated across the application environment. Nevertheless, virtual patching is not a permanent solution and does not always detect all system or software vulnerabilities. 

Value of Virtual Patching

Virtual patching is also known as vulnerability shielding, which protects against threats that exploit new and known vulnerabilities. Virtual patching works by enforcing layers of security guidelines and regulations that prevent and intercept exploits from following network routes to and from exposures. 

A multi-layered virtual patching method is ideal. This includes features for reviewing and blocking risky activities in business-critical traffic, detecting and preventing intrusions, stopping assaults on web-facing applications and deploying adaptably on cloud or physical platforms. 

Here is how virtual patching complements an organization’s existing security technology, vulnerability and patch management policies:

  • Prevents Unnecessary Downtime: Virtual patching offers organizations more flexibility in enforcing patch management practices on their timetable. This limits the possibility of income loss because of unnecessary or unplanned disruptions in corporate activities. 
  • Allows for Greater Flexibility: Virtual patching removes the need to distribute workarounds or emergency patches. It simplifies tasks such as knowing the specific places in the network that require patching or if there’s a need to apply patches to all systems.
  • You Will Get More Time: Virtual patching helps security teams to assess the vulnerability and test and install the necessary patches. In-house applications are at an advantage since they offer programmers and developers more time to resolve vulnerabilities in their code. 
  • It Offers an Additional Layer of Security: Virtual patching extends security controls to IT infrastructures for outdated systems and end-of-support operating systems such as Window Server 2008.
  • Improves Regulatory Compliance: Virtual patching help organizations in meeting timeliness requirements such as EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Payment Card Industry Security Standard (PCI DSS) (PCI).

When you study the different ways in which organizations can’t change the source code immediately, the benefits of virtual patching become clear. Based on the organization, the advantages include the following:

  • It lowers risk until a vendor-supplied patch is released or while a patch is tested and applied.
  • It enables businesses to keep typical patching cycles.
  • Because libraries and support code files are not changed, there is less chance of introducing conflicts.
  • It is a scalable approach because it is done on a few sites rather than on all hosts.
  • It reduces or eliminates the time and money spent on emergency patching.
  • It protects mission-critical systems that cannot be taken offline.

From the perspective of a web application security expert, virtual patching opens up another way for offering services to your clients. In recent years, if source code could not be modified based on the above reasons, there is nothing else a consultant could do to assist in solving the issues. A consultant can now offer to use virtual patches to solve problems that are outside the application code. 

Why is Virtual Patching Difficult for Businesses? 

Some of the difficulties that organizations experience while implementing a virtual patch management system include the following:

  • The number of vulnerabilities that must be patched: This is true for organizations that must patch a growing number of vulnerabilities as their IT infrastructures are always upgraded.
  • Continuity of operations: While applying updates frequently is a desirable practice, many businesses find the patching process so long, expensive and disruptive that they choose to reschedule it or completely stop it in order to minimize operational disruption.
  • Systems that are no longer patchable: Patches may no longer be delivered to applications and systems that have reached the end of their life cycle, even if they are still needed to perform mission-critical tasks. Examples include embedded systems, such as IoT devices, POS terminals and industrial control systems that always contain software or components that cannot be patched.
  • Patch cycle frequency: This can make patching challenging to control especially when determining which vulnerabilities are urgent or important.
  • Visibility is limited: More extensive internet infrastructures require more complicated update processes. This could be exacerbated by a fragmented IT infrastructure, which is normally made up of several operating systems or application versions that are sometimes also geographically scattered.
What Happens to IT Infrastructures That Are Not Patched? 

When a vulnerability is discovered or reported, organizations need to be very quick and timely. It's a golden chance for threat actors and cybercriminals. It takes 69 days for a typical firm to fix a critical vulnerability in its application. On average, it takes 60 days for businesses to realize they have been breached.

This window of vulnerability exposes unpatched systems to attacks. Threat actors began ransomware attacks against unpatched servers in January 2020, putting the networks of over 80,000 businesses at risk.

Conclusion

In today’s evolving environment, keeping up with security issues in complex software and web apps can be exhausting. In these circumstances, virtual patching is the best solution. It mitigates risk by patching web app vulnerabilities.

Virtual patches have different benefits over regular patching cycles, which consume a huge amount of time and money. Virtual patches can be installed within a few minutes at a low cost. Additionally, they should be incorporated in the security toolbox with other security technologies such as intrusion prevention systems, firewalls and better defense against developing threats.

 

Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

Written by

Kent Weigle

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