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A comparison of patch management vs vulnerability management makes their distinct roles clearer. Reading this article will help you see why you should not use these terms interchangeably.

Patch management is essential for avoiding cyberattacks and keeping the company`s devices in good shape. However, it is only one of the shields in the cybersecurity fortress.

Vulnerability management and patch management are often mistaken. Patch management is a part of the vulnerability management process.

Key takeaways:

  • Defining patch management
  • Defining vulnerability management
  • Benefits of each process
  • Differences and similarities

What Is Patch Management?

Patch management is a process that covers the following tasks:

  • acquiring
  • reviewing
  • deploying

software updates to a company’s entire infrastructure.

The patching process applies to software/operating systems, IoT equipment, servers, etc.

Patches are pieces of additional software code that security teams implement in an installed program.

Software engineers produce a patch if:

  • they need to fix a security hole or bug
  • they want to add new features and improve the program’s general functionality.

You can think of patches as “bandages”, but for your business infrastructure.

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Benefits of Patch Management

The patch management process is a continuous activity. Daily checking for available patches and applying them is a common task. Yes, it can be time and resource-consuming, but it pays off. Here are some top benefits of flawless patch management.

Bolsters security posture

Patch management focuses on closing known vulnerabilities in a system. Patching simply fixes flaws and makes them harmless.

According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the attackers will rather exploit a known vulnerability to breach your system.

That’s because trying to discover and use a zero-day means more effort them. So, CISA’s report on Top Routinely Exploited Vulnerability revealed that:

In 2022, malicious cyber actors exploited older software vulnerabilities more frequently than recently disclosed vulnerabilities and targeted unpatched, internet-facing systems.

Source CISA on Top Routinely Exploited Vulnerability

Thus, if you apply available patches in time, you’ll drastically reduce the risk of cyberattacks and security breaches.

Better functionality

Patches and updates are not just about closing vulnerabilities. Sometimes vendors develop and release them to improve a software’s performance.

When fixing errors and bugs, patches also have a role in increasing the company’s productivity. This works for all kinds of Operating Systems, from Windows to Linux and MacOS.

However, always test in a safe environment before you deploy patches. Old devices or software versions sometimes have unexpected reactions to them.

Helps comply with regulations

Patch management helps avoid compliance fines. Timely patch deployment helps attain the required degree of compliance with various regulations.

What Is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is the process of proactively identifying, preventing, mitigating, and classifying vulnerabilities across a system. It’s an important part of any cybersecurity strategy.

If we consider patches “bandages”, then the security vulnerabilities are the “wounds” they close.

Imagine vulnerabilities like holes in the computer’s security. They turn the IT infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks.

After the security team finds the flaw, they must fix it to prevent cybercriminals from exploiting them. Flaw exploitation can cause:

  • system failure
  • data breaches
  • data leakage
  • service and workflow disruption

Patch management and vulnerability management are processes that go hand-in-hand. The vulnerability management system works like an “X-ray” that locates internal “wounds” inside an IT system.

After locating the wounds, the next step is to apply “bandages”. In cybersecurity, that equals applying patches according to a patch management policy.

Benefits of Vulnerability Management

Improves security and control

A strong vulnerability management program includes routinely scanning for vulnerabilities. Patching them soon follows.

Finding and closing security flaws before attackers do is the core goal of vulnerability management.

Reduces costs

The cost-effectiveness of vulnerability management is one of its top advantages. It`s cheaper to prevent than heal.

An automated vulnerability management solution will help security teams avoid inefficient patching and reduce the technical debt.

Provides operational efficiency

Vulnerability management offers o framework for the process of identifying and fixing flaws. It ensures continuous monitoring, alerting, and remedial options. In addition, vulnerability management helps reduce human error, if you use an automated solution.

Patch Management vs Vulnerability Management

patch management vs vulnerability management (3)

Patch management is part of the vulnerability management process. In order to manage vulnerability, the system needs to:

  • Detect
  • Assess
  • Remediate
  • Report vulnerabilities found in a network

Patch management is a technique of remediating software vulnerabilities in networks.

The primary goal of the patch management process is to acquire, review, and deploy software updates to your network. This covers both security updates, and performance updates.

Meanwhile, vulnerability management is a broader process that incorporates the discovery and remediation of risks of all kinds.

Thus, having a patch management solution is essential, but not enough to guarantee the proper security of your system. You need to integrate it into a vulnerability management program. Even after patching, you`ll need to further survey the system and be on the look for additional gaps.

In terms of similarities, both processes aim to keep the business safe by closing vulnerabilities.

Both need a comprehensive inventory of the company`s assets and their configuration details to function. Also, automated solutions are available for vulnerability management as well as patch management.

How Can Vulnerability and Patch Management Helps Your Business

Vulnerability management is a key component in protecting your business from threat actors. It`s a security tool that constantly categorizes each asset of your business’s network and stores its attributes in the process.

By detecting and ranking vulnerabilities based on severity and context, it can better prioritize them. The result will be an effective patch management process.

On the other hand, a patch management solution by itself doesn`t proactively identify vulnerabilities in a software. Its role is to ensure it updates existing software to the latest, most secure version.

The two processes are intertwined. Integrating them brings clarity and efficiency in your effort of keeping the system safe.

Every company has its own distinct characteristics. So, being able to customize your vulnerability or patch management tool will help you respond better to its specific needs.

Heimdal® Patch & Asset Management is a highly customizable solution. This automated patch management tool saves security teams valuable time and resources.

It will allow you to:

  • customize patching schedule as needed
  • deploy patches from anywhere in the world

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Conclusion

Patch and vulnerability management are distinct cybersecurity processes. Patching is part of vulnerability management and it only covers remediation.

Ideally, the two processes are integrated and automated.

Implement strong vulnerability and patching policies in your company to keep hackers away!

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Author Profile

Cristian Neagu

CONTENT EDITOR

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Cristian is a Content Editor & Creator at Heimdal®, where he developed a deep understanding of the digital threat landscape. His style resonates with both technical and non-technical readers, proof being in his skill of communicating cybersecurity norms effectively, in an easy-to-understand manner.

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