The Risks of Delayed Patching: Lessons Learned from High-Profile Cyber Attacks
Cybersecurity has grown to be a major concern in the current digital world, as technology is the foundation of the majority of enterprises and daily operations. To reduce the risk of cyber attacks, it is crucial for organizations to follow the best strategies for cyber threat defense. That is why every organization should follow timely patching to improve its security and defense mechanisms.
However, many organizations experience delayed patching, which leaves them vulnerable to cyber threats. Several factors contribute to the delay in implementing patches, such as poor patch management, lack of enough resources, concerns about compliance, and no schedule for downtime.
This blog post will discuss the risks of delayed patching, how delayed or incomplete patching can increase the risk of successful attacks, and best practices for avoiding these risks through effective patch management.
Risks of Delayed Patching in Linux
Patching is the process of updating systems or software to address known vulnerabilities. These flaws could result from coding errors, inadequate security settings, or security weaknesses found in the software. Applying fixes on servers frequently makes systems more robust to changing cyber threats and improves the overall security posture.
Delaying patching can result in the following risks to individuals and organizations.
Increased Risk of Successful Attacks: This is a major problem with delayed patching as systems are exposed to known vulnerabilities and become a prime target for attackers. Attackers usually exploit these flaws to gain unauthorized access, steal sensitive data, or interfere with operations.
Operation Disruptions and Downtime: In addition to security vulnerabilities, some updates fix bugs and performance-related issues. Delayed patching may result in unsolved performance issues, potentially causing service disruptions and downtime. Unplanned downtime can lead to financial losses, decreased production, and dissatisfied consumers.
Decreased Productivity and Efficiency: As stated earlier, unpatched systems may encounter performance bottlenecks that have a negative impact on both productivity and efficiency. Users can face sluggish response times and reduced functionality, which would hamper their ability to work effectively. A company’s entire productivity and profitability may suffer due to this inefficiency.
Compliance Issues: Specific compliance requirements and data security regulations apply to many industries and organizations. Delays in patching may result in non-compliance, leading to penalties, legal action, or even the loss of operating licenses in some businesses.
Longer and Costlier Patching Process: The patching process may become more difficult the longer a system is left unpatched. The accumulation of updates over time may result in longer patching and increase the amount of downtime that occurs. Additionally, when additional resources and efforts are needed to deal with a backlog of patches, the cost of patching could increase.
High-Profile Attacks Resulting from Delayed Patching
The risks of delayed patching are well known, and history has taught us this lesson the hard way through high-profile cyber attacks. As we already discussed the risks of delayed patching, let’s look at a few high-profile cyber attacks that are a result of delayed patching.
Equifax Data Breach
In 2017, the Equifax Data Breach made headlines when hackers exploited an unpatched Apache Struts vulnerability, enabling them to steal the sensitive data of nearly 150 million customers. This vulnerability allowed the hackers to execute commands with the Web server’s privileges, enabling full remote command execution. The aftermath of this breach proved highly detrimental to Equifax, resulting in losses amounting to close to $700 million.
Marriott Data Breach
In 2018, the Marriott Data Breach shook the hospitality industry when a sophisticated hack exposed a staggering number of customer records, ranging between 300 and 500 million, from their hotel reservation system. The root cause of this substantial data breach lay in unpatched software on a system that Marriott had previously acquired, specifically the Starwood network. This oversight provided an entry point for hackers to breach the system and gain access to the vast customer database, resulting in a severe breach of privacy and trust within the affected community.
Fortune-500 Power Company Data Breach
An unnamed company failed to adhere to essential security practices, neglecting to apply critical software patches to their physical control system for an extended period, surpassing a year. As a result, the power supply for millions of homes was put at risk, potentially exposing them to severe consequences.
The underlying cause of this breach stemmed from a misconfiguration that prevented the system from updating automatically. Additionally, the company faced challenges due to the lack of backups, as the system was in the process of being decommissioned. To avoid manual patching, which would have necessitated a reboot, the company made the unfortunate decision to forego the necessary updates.
How Patching Can Mitigate the Risks of Cyber Attacks
Patching plays a crucial part in assuring the stability and security of an organization’s servers and infrastructures. It is one of the effective methods to reduce the risks of cyber threats. Let’s examine how patching can help strengthen your system’s defense against cyber attacks.
Vulnerability Mitigation: Software and operating system vulnerabilities are a persistent target for cyberattacks. You can patch up known vulnerabilities in your Linux systems right away. Closing potential entry points with regular software updates and monitoring makes it far more difficult for criminal actors to hack your systems.
Protection Against Zero-Day Exploits: Because the software vendor is unaware of the security flaws, there is no patch for zero-day attacks. Attackers taking advantage of these flaws before patches or updates are available are common and cannot be underestimated. Delaying patching can expose organizations to zero-day vulnerabilities for more extended periods.
In the famous Microsoft cyberattack in 2021, the hackers exploited four distinct zero-day vulnerabilities, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive emails and information across various organizations. The attack impacted over 30,000 US businesses, ranging from small enterprises to local government bodies.
Protection Against Ransomware Attacks: Linux systems can be severely damaged by cyberattacks like malware infections and ransomware. Software flaws are frequently exploited by malicious malware to enter networks. Regular system and application updates give you the most recent security protections, preventing malware and making it more difficult for attackers to carry out their destructive payloads.
Protecting Sensitive Data: As a Linux System Administrator, you know the need to protect sensitive data kept on your machines. A delay in applying patches could leave this data vulnerable. You can strengthen the security of your data and reduce the danger of unauthorized access and data theft by meticulously implementing fixes.
Performance Boost: Patches frequently introduce new features and improvements in addition to fixing security vulnerabilities. Maintaining a smooth and dependable infrastructure depends on being able to optimize the functionality and efficiency of your Linux systems.
Meeting Regulatory Requirements: With regard to cybersecurity, several sectors, and regulatory organizations have unique compliance requirements. Frequently, maintaining these standards requires routine patching. You demonstrate your company’s dedication to upholding a secure and legal environment by consistently keeping your Linux systems patched.
Common Reasons for Delayed Patching and How to Overcome Them
There are a number of factors that contribute to the delay in implementing patches, but these problems can be solved with knowledge and proactive actions. Let’s examine some common reasons for delayed patching and how to overcome them to avoid the risks of delayed patching.
Compatibility Problems: It’s common to worry that installing patches can cause problems with existing software or custom applications, which could affect corporate operations.
Create staging environments that mirror the systems of the organizations to test before deploying patches in production environments. This way, you can find and fix any compatibility problems before deployment.
Poor Patch Management: Lack of enough resources, such as time, staff, and money, can result in poor patch management. Patching may receive less attention from IT teams since they are overburdened with other important activities. Some businesses might not fully appreciate the value of timely patching or the potential risks of missing security patches.
Setting up an automated patch management system can help IT personnel work less hard. With the help of periodic patching, automatic updates, and simplified deployment, this method ensures prompt patch application with less manual work.
Regulatory Compliance: Organizations operating in highly regulated industries might delay patching due to the fear of disrupting compliance requirements or facing non-compliance penalties.
Engage with regulatory bodies and compliance experts to understand the criticality of patches and their impact on compliance. Implement a patch prioritization strategy that addresses high-risk vulnerabilities while ensuring compliance requirements are met.
System Downtime: The conventional vulnerability patching method requires a system reboot, which would cause downtime or scheduled maintenance. Due to worries about system downtime and its effects on crucial activities, some businesses delay applying fixes.
Schedule patch deployment for weekends or off-peak times when system usage is low. This lessens the effect on business operations while providing enough time for system patching and rebooting.
With KernelCare Enterprise, you can automate security patching while maintaining 100% uptime of your Linux servers. That means you do not have to schedule maintenance or reboot the system while deploying patches. KernelCare supports all major Linux distributions and has helped more than 300 thousand servers to meet compliance requirements.
Best Practices for Effective Patch Management to Prevent Delayed Patching
A secure and robust IT infrastructure requires an effective patch management strategy that helps organizations to stay ahead of cyber threats, lowering the likelihood of successful attacks. We recommend the following practices to prevent the risks of delayed patching and establish a strong security posture.
Comprehensive Patch Management Policy: Outline the organization’s approach to handling patches and create a detailed policy. This includes specifying the roles, responsibilities, and procedures for finding, testing, and deploying patches.
Regular Vulnerability Scans: Perform routine vulnerability scans and assessments on all systems and programs. This preventive approach aids in spotting possible weaknesses so you can quickly prioritize and fix them.
Automated Patching: To make the process more effective, use an automated patch management system that helps distribute patches on time across the entire infrastructure.
Testing Before Deployment: Before applying patches to live systems, thoroughly test them in a staging environment to find compatibility problems or unforeseen repercussions.
Schedule Patch Deployments: Make a routine patch deployment schedule that fits the operational requirements of your organization. Patches should be applied at off-peak times or during maintenance periods to minimize impact on business operations.
Applying fixes to Linux servers on a regular basis is essential for avoiding the risks of delayed patching as well as a best practice. In order to protect sensitive information, ensure business continuity, and protect an organization’s reputation, timely patching is essential.
Organizations can improve their cybersecurity defenses and lower their chance of being the target of cyberattacks by addressing the common causes of delayed patching and implementing proactive methods. Through proactive patch management, Linux system admins have the ability to strengthen their company’s cybersecurity defense.