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Patch Management vs. Vulnerability Management

Patch Management vs. Vulnerability Management

The threat of cybercrime is ever-evolving and increasing. By the end of 2022, experts estimate that damages to businesses and institutions will exceed $1 trillion.

To prevent cyber breaches from impacting business operations, a company must take proactive steps to fortify its security perimeter and reduce its potential attack surface. Here, vulnerability management and patch management are critical processes that work in harmony to lower your overall risk profile by identifying software vulnerabilities and then patching them. 

While these cybersecurity practices share some similarities, each serves its own unique purpose. Today, we’ll review patch management vs. vulnerability management to equip you with the knowledge to stave off a potential cyber threat.

What Is Patch Management and Vulnerability Management?

The terms patch management and vulnerability management are often used as synonyms. This is understandable, seeing as they both seek to discover and close security vulnerabilities.

Where they differ, however, is in terms of scope:

  • Patch management – Patch management is more narrowly focused on installing software and firmware updates to either address bugs in the source code or add new features and functionalities. 
  • Vulnerability management – Vulnerability management is broader in scope in that it seeks to identify and address all types of security risks an organization may face—be they digital, physical, or organizational.  

That being said, let’s explore each security tool in depth. 

Patch Management 

Patching is the practice of inserting new code to “patch” a functionality or vulnerability issue within a system. The security patch itself is typically released by the vendor and installed by IT teams during a system update. 

Broadly speaking, patch management is the process by which a business identifies issues, develops fixes, and implements changes. The most common places patches are needed include applications, operating systems, and embedded systems.  

One of the distinguishing features in the patch management vs vulnerability management discussion is that patch management doesn’t necessarily involve network security issues. In some instances, a patch can fix bugs that negatively impact user experience. Or, it could provide new features that improve an application’s functionality.     

What does the patch management process entail? 

The answer to that isn’t universal. Currently, there are various regulatory frameworks—like NIST and PCI—that require a company to establish a patch management protocol. This can be confusing, since each enterprise and sector may impose slightly different types of patch management. 

However, by studying the various strategies, it’s possible to highlight several patch management best practices

  • Identifying the regulations or policies that govern the industry
  • Categorizing all critical assets
  • Prioritizing high-risk devices 
  • Consolidating systems 
  • Establishing a patch management policy
  • Reviewing internal and external security vulnerabilities
  • Automating processes where possible
  • Documenting actions take    

Vulnerability Management 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines a vulnerability as a “weakness in an information system, system security procedures, internal controls, or implementation that could be exploited or triggered by a threat source.” 

That said, the term “vulnerability” broadly encompasses a wide variety of gaps within a company’s operating environment that a hacker or malicious individual could exploit. 

Vulnerability management is the systematic process an organization can deploy to identify, analyze, and neutralize critical vulnerability. Ideally, the goal is to eliminate security issues before they wreak havoc on a company’s privacy practices or business operations.

Similar to patch management, vulnerability management is cyclical. IT teams must utilize safety tools continuously to include new applications, devices, and systemic changes and address emerging threats. Often, this is accomplished with the assistance of automated solutions that streamline the process and vulnerability scanners that monitor the environment. 

Although the specific steps will vary depending on the business and industry, most risk based  vulnerability management processes will include three key aspects: 

  1. Discovery – Identifying and categorizing critical assets within an environment as well as potential threats associated with the asset. 
  2. Prioritization – Ranking discovered software vulnerabilities according to the potential threat they pose to an organization. Naturally, more pressing issues are given priority.  
  3. Remediation – Outlining actions to take in order to mitigate, if not eliminate, the security vulnerability. 

Vulnerability Management vs. Patch Management 

What is the major difference between the two security practices?

Essentially, patch management is a key aspect of vulnerability management, but the same can’t be said in reverse. Most types of patch management fall within the category of IT, whereas vulnerability management is a critical component of organizational security. 

Remember, not all patches will contain security fixes. However, a Kaspersky Incident Respondent Analytics Report discovered that patch management alone was able to decrease the risk of experiencing a security incident by 30%.3 

That said, patch management is just one piece of the larger vulnerability management puzzle.   

Syncro—The Best of Both Worlds

While there’s certainly overlap within the vulnerability vs. patch management discussion, they’re not the same. Vulnerability management addresses all types of security issues, while patch management pinpoints and patches specific vulnerabilities. 

At Syncro, our patch management software can help your business maintain third-party applications, automate Windows management, and generate reports about potential vulnerabilities.

Our modern managed services provider platform combines the capabilities of remote monitoring and management (RMM) and professional services automation (PSA) to give organizations the tools they need to excel in spite of ongoing cybersecurity challenges. 

Schedule a demo today to see for yourself. 

Caitlin Good

Denver-based content marketing manager for Syncro. Curator of new experiences: creating compelling and helpful content on the weekday, exploring nature and cities on the weekend.

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