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Patch Management vs. Vulnerability Management: What’s The Difference?

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Patch Management and Vulnerability Management are two key practices that keep organizations safe. Used effectively, they can detect vulnerabilities, patch them efficiently and safely, and help organizations meet their Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) requirements. 

Because both practices work together to build up an organization’s IT security strategy, they are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Here, we will explore what sets them apart, to understand how they combine their areas of practice. We will also see how InvGate Insight can help you streamline both processes to keep organizations thoroughly protected.

Ready to go? Let’s start.

 

 

Patch Management overview

Patch Management is the process of testing and deploying patches to protect your environment from security threats. Patches are codes inserted into a software program to fix a vulnerability or bug or improve the service being patched. 

Major software vendors regularly release patches for their operating systems and products to protect their customers, meet industry requirements, and comply with best practices.

Vulnerability Management, in a nutshell

Vulnerability Management, on the other hand, is the practice that identifies, categorizes, prioritizes, and solves operating system and software vulnerabilities. 

Vulnerabilities are security flaws, glitches, or weaknesses found in software code, which an attacker could exploit. This practice ensures these threats are captured, identified, and prioritized so the Patch Management process can act on them.  

Patch Management vs. Vulnerability Management: similarities and differences

Patch and vulnerability are key players in IT security best practices, so let’s look at their similarities and differences.

  Similarities Differences

IT security best practice

Both practices are key components of the overall IT security strategy. Vulnerability Management identifies, categorizes, prioritizes, and solves operating systems and software vulnerabilities.

Patch Management, which consists of distributing and applying updates or software patches, is part of Vulnerability Management.

Lifecycle approach Both practices take a lifecycle approach.  They each apply this approach to their area of practice.

Patch Management manages patches from capture, testing, deployment, and replacement, whereas Vulnerability Management tracks threats and vulnerabilities through their lifecycles.

Risk mitigation Both practices are actively involved in the organization’s Risk Management strategy. Vulnerability Management mitigates risk by identifying threats and vulnerabilities and creating an action plan.

Patch Management then ensures the right patches and software updates are deployed to contain those vulnerabilities.

Compliance Management Both practices are key players in IT compliance activities.

Vulnerability Management ensures compliance requirements are being met by identifying environmental threats.

Patch Management completes the cycle by patching those vulnerabilities.

Continuous operation Both practices use continuous operation and monitoring to be effective.

 

Vulnerability Management is continually polling for external threats.

Patch Management will lean into continuous delivery to quickly and effectively deploy appropriate patches.

 

As you’ve seen, there is a lot that brings them together, but also some key differentiators that set them apart. In the next sections we will see in a bit more detail how both practices combine their areas of practice to stay on top of keeping organizations thoroughly protected.

What are the similarities between Patch and Vulnerability Management?

Patch and Vulnerability Management are closely related components, here are the key similarities between the two:

  • IT security strategy: Both are in place to strengthen IT security. Patch Management achieves this by updating software and systems with the latest security patches. In contrast, Vulnerability Management identifies and mitigates vulnerabilities and continually polls the threat landscape, looking for potential new threats.
  • Risk mitigation processes: Both practices aim to mitigate security risks, reducing the chances of successful cyber attacks by identifying vulnerabilities and patching them.
  • Customer requirements: Your customers will also have cyber security requirements, so being transparent and proactive in approaching the patch and vulnerability practices will reassure customers, partners, and stakeholders of that. 
  • Compliance requirements: Compliance with industry standards, regulatory and legal requirements, and internal security policies need the two. 
  • Continuous processes: Both are ongoing, continual processes as your technology will constantly scan the threat landscape for vulnerabilities. Both require regular monitoring and updates to adapt to evolving threats.
  • Dependency on other processes: The two rely on other functions to work effectively. For example, the need to know and understand your IT ecosystem lends itself to Configuration Management practices. This process captures all the building blocks and relationships to make up IT services, making it easier for Patch and Vulnerability Management to regularly scan and inventory your IT estate to identify outstanding vulnerabilities and patch them accordingly. Another example of this is the Change Enablement process, which can help expedite critical patching over other routine change activities. 
  • Balance between speed and effectiveness: It’s important to ensure that vulnerabilities are identified and patched quickly to protect your systems vulnerable to attack from security threats and exploits. Vulnerability Management needs to balance recognizing the threat with assessing the impact, and Patch Management needs to balance getting the environment patched as quickly and as safely as possible, ensuring the patch is tested, a release plan is in place, and there is a plan to mitigate or prevent service disruption.
  • Documentation and reporting: Both processes involve documentation and reporting vulnerability scanning activities and Patch Management results. Organizations need to keep records of both practice activities for audit purposes, compliance checks, technical decision-making, and continual improvement.

What are the differences between Patch and Vulnerability Management?

However, while Patch and Vulnerability Management are essential for cybersecurity, their scope and processes differ. 

If it makes it easier to understand, consider them as being on two sides of the same coin; Vulnerability Management identifies vulnerabilities and threats, and Patch Management then fixes them by deploying software patches. 

Here are the key differences between the two

  • Scope: Patch Management focuses on identifying, testing, and deploying software updates or patches provided by vendors to fix known vulnerabilities. Vulnerability Management has a broader focus and covers identifying, assessing, and prioritizing security vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT environment; as well as mitigating them; this includes hardware, software, and network infrastructure. 
  • Activities: Patch Management typically includes identifying patches, testing them to ensure they are compatible with the end environment, deploying patches aligned with organizational change and release management processes, and monitoring to verify successful patching. Vulnerability Management involves scanning the IT environment for vulnerabilities, assessing and prioritizing vulnerabilities based on probability and impact, remediation planning, and monitoring.
  • Reporting: Patch Management typically reports on patch deployment status, success rate, and compliance with patching policies. Vulnerability Management reporting looks at threat assessment results, prioritization of vulnerabilities, and remediation planning.

How do Patch and Vulnerability Management work together?

The two practices work together effectively to enhance an organization’s cybersecurity posture by addressing known vulnerabilities and reducing security risks. When implementing them across organizations, an IT Asset Management (ITAM) tool can make a big difference to streamline operations and reduce human errors.

Here are ways in which both processes can be integrated and coordinated and how InvGate Insight can help you along the implementation process:

  • Know your environment: It’s vital to understand your IT environment so that you can set an appropriate scope for vulnerability scanning, prioritize the right services, and deploy patches quickly and effectively. You can build your IT asset inventory on InvGate Insight to map out your threat landscape accurately and guarantee nothing falls under the cracks.
  • Scan for vulnerabilities: Vulnerability Management is the activity that conducts regular scans of the IT environment to identify vulnerabilities. These scans identify software and service components that require patches or may need some other action to protect corporate data’s confidentiality, integrity, and confidentiality. For instance, through InvGate Insight’s searching capabilities you can identify and report on outdated devices in order to then deploy patches in the order you consider most efficient.
  • Incorporate a prioritization strategy: Both processes involve prioritization. Let’s start with Vulnerability Management, which prioritizes vulnerabilities based on severity and potential impact to create an appropriate strategy and response plan. The Patch Management process then prioritizes patches based on criticality and potential exposure, ensuring that the most critical patches are deployed first.
  • Automate and optimize: Automated tools and systems can help manage and maintain your patches and updates and also integrate both functions. This will improve accuracy and reduce the potential for human error. Once you have identified possible vulnerabilities, InvGate Insight allows you to deploy the necessary patches across various systems.
  • Integrate with IT Service Management (ITSM) practices: Lean into ITSM practices such as Change Enablement and Event Management so that you have the structures in place to deploy patches in line with organizational requirements and that they are tested appropriately. InvGate Insight seamlessly integrates with InvGate Service Desk, allowing you to build integrated workflows and combine the power of both ITAM and ITSM practices.
  • Apply continual improvement: Build continual improvement activities into both practices to ensure they continue to evolve in line with business requirements and updates in regulatory requirements.  

In short

Vulnerability and Patch Management are two important players in the overall IT security strategy. While the first identifies vulnerabilities and threats and ensures appropriate remediation and planning is in place, the second takes the results of the vulnerabilities to patch them quickly and effectively.

To implement them, it’s important to understand not only their different responsibilities and areas of practice, but also how they combine their processes to build a strong and robust security strategy and how an ITAM solution can make a big difference in terms of accuracy and efficiency.

If you want to see what InvGate Insight can do for your organization’s IT security strategy, don’t hesitate to ask for a 30 day free trial and look through it in your own time.