Three Ways IT Automation Simplifies Patch Management

By: Virginia Mayo

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Digital risks shouldn’t be countered with paper defenses. But that’s what many organizations essentially do by relying on traditional patch management methods that involve IT pros logging security assessments on paper in the hope of detecting every vulnerability and improving compliance.

Manual security assessments of IT infrastructure not only open the door to human error but also hasten the inevitably of a cybercriminal exploiting a system vulnerability. While a lack of visibility allows vulnerabilities to hide in these complex systems, they can also linger in plain sight, ignored by stretched-thin IT pros who don’t have the time to tackle more work or lack the expertise to make sense of difficult patching.

With an increase in cloud, mobile and Internet of Things technologies, enterprises’ digital footprints continue to expand and stretch their attack surfaces. This means organizations can’t continue to ignore the importance of patching. Fortunately, your IT pros can finally put down those paper logs and receive the help they need to secure your digital assets. A paradigm shift is transforming how organizations can monitor and protect their IT environments.

Risk-based continuous patch (RCP) automates time-consuming and difficult manual processes, using cognitive and artificial intelligence capabilities to manage the many vulnerabilities that lead to security threats. Here are three ways a continuous compliance approach to patch management can benefit your business.

1. Enhance Your Security and Compliance Posture

As well-intentioned as many IT departments are, they still have to work within a budget. They only have so many employees and so many hours to tackle the operational and security tasks of overseeing complex computing infrastructure. Inevitably, IT pros can’t stay on top of these tasks.

RCP eliminates the labor, complexity and limited visibility of manual patch management. By automating the process, RCP, using IBM BigFix, continuously assesses operating systems and applications — providing full visibility of end points and their configurations and offering a complete and accurate analysis of physical, virtual and cloud assets’ security posture.

With RCP, IT pros can stop worrying about missing a system vulnerability or making an error that compromises security. The continuous, automatic patch assessment of RCP using BigFix’s engine vastly improves security and compliance because it’s always focused on detecting vulnerabilities and always offering key insight about whether unmet standards could lead to a compliance violation.

2. Create a Consistent Process

IT departments sometimes delay manual patching because it requires multiple steps, and there are seemingly more pressing matters than addressing what appears to be a low-level vulnerability. But companies need to fix vulnerabilities as soon as they know they exist. A vulnerability that looks minor could lead to a damaging security breach if ignored for long.

The WannaCry cyberattack might have caused far less damage if users had only taken patching more seriously and updated their Windows operating systems. Similarly, the Equifax breach last year likely wouldn’t have happened if the credit bureau had simply patched a known software vulnerability.

With digital footprints expanding, organizations can’t afford to delay patching. It’s not a sustainable approach to security. RCP eliminates the uncertainties and guesswork of patching by introducing certainty and consistency. By codifying a set remediation schedule with IT departments, RCP facilitates automatic patch installs on a regular basis, reducing the chance that vulnerabilities can be exploited.

3. Protects Organizations by Improving System Insight

Many organizations want to prioritize patch management but can’t because they don’t have enough IT staffers to devote time to the process. Maybe they’ve squeaked by without any major breaches, but the odds are against them if they continue to ignore vulnerabilities.

The cognitive and AI technology that supports RCP offers ground-level insight into how an organization’s patching efforts are faring. This insight shines a bright spotlight on existing issues and potential problems and lets IT and management clearly see the implications of vulnerabilities. By constantly analyzing system data, the AI-supported insight accurately assesses the risk of a system shutdown, shows what needs to be patched and illustrates why it must happen sooner than later.

If organizations want to keep using technology to innovate, they must also prioritize patch management. RCP reduces complexity by automating a difficult manual process and leveraging cognitive technology to stay on top of constantly evolving security threats.

Learn more about RCP and IBM Services Platform with Watson.

Article contributors: Lisa Chavez, IBM Distinguished Engineer, Technology Innovation and Automation Solutions; Sai Zeng, IBM Research Staff Member, Manager – Hybrid Cloud Service Management; Cindy Mullen, IBM Technical Webmaster, Solutions, Delivery and Transformation; and Zoltan Dozmati, Global Program Manager, Technology Innovation and Automation Solutions.

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About The Author

Virginia Mayo

Senior Technical Staff Member (STSM), IBM Senior Certified/L3 IT Specialist GTS

Virginia Mayo is a Senior Technical Staff Member and Senior Certified IT Specialist at IBM and The Open Group Distinguished IT Specialist. She holds a Masters in Engineering Management degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and has over 15 years' experience in the IT field in the area of server provisioning, software distribution,... Read More