June 26, 2024

Stay Ahead of Known Vulnerabilities with Automated Patch Management

Security & Compliance

The consequences of not patching are everywhere: remember the Log4j vulnerability that grants hackers complete access to your devices? The best way to prevent this from happening is to use a patched version of Log4j — so why did this become a catastrophic and prolific security vulnerability event? 

A: Because people hate, forget, or simply dismiss patching as a labor-intensive part of managing their infrastructure. There are a lot more pressing things to do, until of course, there is a security breach. 

There’s a better way to keep ahead of patching and prevent vulnerabilities: automated patch management. Let’s dig further into what it is and how to do it. 

Table of Contents: 

What is Automated Patch Management? 

Automated patch management is the use of software to keep your systems up to date, including identifying, acquiring, and installing updates (patches) for your software, operating systems, and firmware. 

Patches fix software vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to gain access to your systems, steal data, or disrupt operations. By keeping your systems patched, you're essentially closing the holes that hackers might try to sneak through, significantly improving your overall security posture. 

Automated patch management: 

  1. Automatically scans devices to identify missing patches 
  2. Prioritizes which patches to address first 
  3. Downloads and installs patches 
  4. Generates reports to track progress and identify any problems 

Automated patching saves time and effort — and it can keep your environment more secure. It takes one more task off your IT security team so they can focus on work that adds business value. 

What are the Risks of Not Patching? 

You should be very, very afraid of not patching — here are a few real-world examples and specific problems that can happen: 

Increased Vulnerability to Cyberattacks 

Unpatched systems are open doors for attackers. As mentioned at the beginning of the blog, the infamous 2021 Log4J vulnerability in a widely used logging library allowed attackers to plant malicious code and take control of systems. Any organization that hadn't applied the patch in time was left scrambling to fix the widespread damage. 

Financial Loss 

Cyberattacks can be incredibly expensive, even without considering loss due to reputational damage —the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is a perfect example. Hackers exploited a known vulnerability in their operational technology, forcing the company to shut down operations and pay millions in ransom. 

Data Breaches 

The 2017 Equifax breach is a cautionary tale — unpatched systems can expose sensitive data. The credit bureau failed to patch a critical vulnerability, giving attackers access the personal information of millions of Americans. This resulted in hefty fines, reputational damage, and lawsuits. 

Compliance Failures 

For industries that handle sensitive information, compliance is a non-negotiable way to maintain secure systems. Patching is often a component of compliance —failure to patch systems can lead to hefty fines and other penalties. As an example: healthcare providers subject to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) must implement safeguards to protect patient data, which means unpatched systems are a violation of these regulations. Another example is PCI-DSS, which has an explicit requirement for patching within a specific timeframe: 

  • Requirement 6.2: Ensure that all system components and software are protected from known vulnerabilities by installing applicable vendor-supplied security patches. Install critical security patches within one month of release. 

Automated Patch Management: Before, During, and Ongoing 

The risk associated with not patching is clear and proven— it’s time for you to get proactive with an automated patch management tool that can help you manage patching, even when it’s not the first thing on your list. 

Before the Patch: Vulnerability Assessment 

Before any patching happens, you need to understand the landscape of your infrastructure. Puppet Enterprise can help you stay ready with: 

  • System Scans: Continuously scan your devices to identify missing patches and outdated software — Puppet does this in one place with an intuitive dashboard. 
  • Vulnerability Assessment: It’s critical to analyze the severity of any missing patches, prioritizing critical ones that pose the biggest security risks, which is why automating this assessment is key. 
  • Inventory Management: Create a detailed inventory of your systems and software, ensuring no device is overlooked. Puppet can apply new CVEs for hard-to-find systems and ensure all systems are patched, secure, and compliant. 

During the Patch: 

Streamlined Deployment When you understand your vulnerabilities, it's time for automated patch deployment: 

  • Automate Patching Workflows: If you’re already using multiple patch managers and patch management tools, you can simplify patching workflows using the Puppet Enterprise console. 
  • Scheduled Deployments: Define patching schedules that minimize disruption, like deploying outside of business hours. Puppet allows self-service deployments across multiple teams, with extra functionalities like blackout dates. 
  • Testing: While some patches can be deployed directly, others might require testing to ensure compatibility with existing software — Puppet can streamline this deployment and provide visibility with premium features like Impact Analysis

After the Patch and Ongoing: Verification and Reporting 

Patching isn't complete until you verify its success: 

  • Patch Verification: Puppet automatically ensures all patches are installed correctly and functioning as intended. 
  • Reporting and Monitoring: Puppet’s detailed reporting provides continuous monitoring and ensures your systems stay secure. 

Using Puppet for Automated Patch Management 

As your infrastructure grows and evolves, your IT teams face an ever-increasing number of endpoints that need to be patched to prevent vulnerabilities. 

Puppet Enterprise gives your teams peace of mind — you can see all your systems in one place with automated patching that streamlines routine tasks, reduces risk, improves compliance, and empowers you to scale with ease. 

Ready to experience the power of unified patch management? Sign up for a free trial of Puppet today and see how we can help you secure your evolving infrastructure.