Patch management has historically been a challenge for IT and security teams, which are under pressure to create strong programs and deploy fixes as they're released. Now their challenges are intensified as a global shift to remote work forces companies to rethink patching strategies.
"It's a massive challenge all of a sudden," says Stephen Boyer, co-founder and CTO at BitSight. Businesses accustomed to protecting 2,000 employees across three to four offices now have to secure the same workers in 2,000 home offices. People are working on personal devices, with home routers they don't properly configure, on networks the corporation cannot manage.
Data shows home networks pose a higher security risk than enterprise networks, he continues. BitSight research shows 45% of remote office networks have observed malware, compared with 13% of corporate networks. And more industries are enforcing work-from-home policies: 84% of traffic in the US education sector shifted off-network during the fourth week of March, data shows, along with 63% of government/policies sector traffic and 35% of finance sector traffic.
"People are working on networks that aren't managed and controlled by the corporation anymore," Boyer explains. Those who do have corporate devices use them in workspaces that are "drastically different" than the environments inside a corporation. The change has been a jolt to IT and security teams, which didn't expect this level of remote work for several years and now face unprecedented challenges in buying, configuring, deploying, and patching machines.
The process of buying assets is typically a long one that is researched, vetted, planned, and executed, says Richard Melick, senior technical product manager at Automox. Laptops and desktops would arrive, and then be configured and deployed. "We skip all that now," he says. "Now it's, 'Get them a laptop so they can get back to work.'" This need to continue working remotely has created a technologically diverse environment that most IT and security pros are not used to, and the need for different configurations on different endpoints puts new pressure on teams.
"You don't necessarily have as much control as you used to," says Jon Clay, director of global threat communications at Trend Micro. The proliferation of devices across thousands of home offices has exacerbated existing patch management challenges and created new ones. Some traditional patching advice still applies in these times, and some tips are even more important.
Here, experts in vulnerability and patch management share their advice for IT and security pros struggling to patch properly throughout the pandemic. Read on to learn their tips, and feel free to share your own in the Comments section.