The recent global shift to remote or hybrid work arrangements has been a dream come true for many employees, who now enjoy a better work-life balance, less commute stress, and other perks. For cybersecurity experts tasked with keeping organizations secure would most likely use the word nightmare instead.
Why? Because keeping devices updated when employees work from various remote locations using devices of their own choosing is a difficult challenge to overcome.
But ignoring this challenge isn’t an option either because attacks on remote employees are becoming more common and their consequences more severe, with the average ransom payment increasing to $154,108 in Q4 2020, up from $84,116 in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Some Patches Are More Important Than Others
When a patch becomes available, many remote employees delay its installation for three main reasons:
- They don’t want the installation of the patch to interrupt their work.
- They don’t consider the patch to be particularly important.
- They don’t have the bandwidth to download the patch at the moment.
The problem is that not all patches are created equal, and some are so important that they’re worth waiting a while for them to download and having to restart the updated device.
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of patches in order of their importance, from the least important to the most:
- Feature updates: The purpose of feature updates is to add new functionality or improve existing features. While some features may be highly important and greatly desirable, their installation can be delayed for a very long time without any negative impact on security or productivity.
- Bug fixes: Bugs are flaws in software applications that may result in everything from unexpected behavior to catastrophic crashes. Bug fixes can improve productivity by making the patches software more reliable, but they don’t impact security.
- Security patches: The installation of security patches prevents known vulnerabilities from being exploited by cybercriminals. As such, their installation should never be delayed more than absolutely necessary (the amount of time it takes to save open documents or finish an online meeting).
Because employees often don’t understand the differences between them, they delay the installation of highly important security patches and make themselves, and the entire organization, vulnerable to dangerous cyber threats.
Just how vulnerable? Well, a report published by information technology company Automox revealed that 60 percent of data breaches in the past two years could be traced back to a missing operating system patch or application patch.
In other words, all organizations can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a potentially devastating data breach by more than a half just by updating their patch management strategy for the remote work era.
Patch Management Best Practices for Remote Work
Patch management is defined as the process of distributing and applying updates to software. Traditional patch management practices don’t work too well in remote work environments because IT professionals can’t readily access and manage all devices employees use to get work done.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much effort to update patch management for the remote work era. Here are several steps that all organizations can take to prevent unpatched vulnerabilities from causing massive issues:
- Make patching mandatory: Remote employees must understand that patches impact the organization’s cybersecurity posture just as much as, let’s say, passwords do. It’s a good idea to create a policy that clearly explains why the installation of available security patches is critically important and provides instructions on how to schedule the installation of less important updates so they take place during downtime.
- Take advantage of remote patch management solutions: There are many remote patch management solutions that give organizations the ability to remotely update end-user devices. The leading solutions can push patches automatically and deal with different operating systems as well as third-party software applications.
- Implement split tunneling: For security reasons, it’s a good idea to require remote employees to use the corporate VPN whenever accessing the organization’s server and the resources stored on it. Instead of pushing updates through the same VPN and potentially causing massive slowdowns, organizations should implement split tunneling, routing internet traffic directly onto the internet.
These patch management best practices are relatively easy to implement, but they can go a long way in ensuring that important patches are installed in a timely manner and without impacting employee productivity more than absolutely necessary.
Remote work arrangements have many benefits for employees and employers, but improved visibility isn’t among them. To ensure that important patches are installed on all devices used by remote employees, organizations need to update their patch management strategies and take advantage of available patch management solutions.
As part of our managed cybersecurity services, we can help your organization keep all devices updated, and all you need to do is get in touch with us.