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The Patching Paradox: A Path to Intelligent Vulnerability Management

Imagine: You're out at sea, sailing through treacherous and uncharted waters. The tips of sharp rocks jutting from the waves give some forewarning of danger, but beneath the surface, twisting reefs and shallow sandbanks threaten to run you aground.

Imagine: You’re out at sea, sailing through treacherous and uncharted waters. The tips of sharp rocks jutting from the waves give some forewarning of danger, but beneath the surface, twisting reefs and shallow sandbanks threaten to run you aground.

As you desperately bail saltwater from the hold and look for ways to patch the holes, you cannot help but lament your fate. You realize, would have been to hire the best sailors and chart your course ahead of time. After all, you would have never come this way if you’d known these waters held so much danger.

In cybersecurity, there’s no such luck as an unsinkable ship or a map that marks all the hazards. The current is always changing and new threats come as quickly as a summer tsunami. This means that the most effective way to improve your security posture is to focus on identifying the risks that will actually affect your organization, and then prioritize patching the associated vulnerabilities.

The Most Dangerous Rock Is the One You’re Sailing Toward

In theory, the best way to stay protected is to keep every system you use up to date by patching every vulnerability as soon as it’s identified and always using the newest software. In practice, this “patch everything, everywhere” approach is almost impossible to sustain. Even though any one organization will only use software that represents a small proportion of this number, any cybersecurity team that tries to keep their systems completely up to date day after day will find themselves overburdened and unable to do any other work.

The obvious conclusion is to prioritize patching the vulnerabilities that put your organization at the most risk. But quantifying that risk is not as easy as focusing on vulnerabilities with the highest severity score. It’s not the zero-day exploits that nobody has a defense against or some other clever new threat that does the most damage, but vulnerabilities that people know about but just haven’t gotten around to patching.

Open Waters

Deciding how to respond to threats needs to be based on real risks supported by good data. Use automated vulnerability management tools to quickly identify which parts of your system need critical care, and then prioritize those vulnerabilities with threat intelligence that tells you which vulnerabilities are actually most liable to be exploited.

To learn more about how external threat intelligence can help your organization uncover the vulnerabilities in your system that threat actors could be exploiting right now, download our free white paper, “Vulnerability Intelligence From the Dark Web: The Disclosure to Exploit Risk Race.”

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Navigating Security in the Cloud
Diya Jolly, Chief Product Officer, Okta,  12/4/2019
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