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In today’s day and age, cybersecurity is a common concern within companies and within IT departments in particular. It’s important to keep your IT environment as safe as possible – and that’s where patch management and vulnerability management come in. Not sure where to begin? Don’t worry, Atera’s here to help.

Patch management and vulnerability management products are often bundled together and assumed to serve the same purpose. But the reality of the situation is that, while these two processes are compatible and related, they are not the same.

In this article, we will dive deeper into both topics, explaining what they are, when they should be used, and their key similarities and differences. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a well-developed understanding of these two areas of IT and you’ll gain new knowledge about which one you should prioritize. (Hint: It’s both!)

What is patch management?

Patch management is a process that’s used to update software, operating systems, and applications in a logical way. When you purchase a patch management product, it should enable you to highlight, classify, and prioritize any patches that a given asset is missing.

Let’s back up a second: What exactly are patches? Well, they’re code changes that come from a program’s vendor and can contain anything from security fixes to new features and updates. Patch management should keep your programs running smoothly, but it’s not necessarily a catch-all. That’s why it’s important to combine patch management with vulnerability management.

What is vulnerability management?

While not all patches are related to security issues, vulnerability management is an area that’s entirely focused on security. This process is used to discover assets on a network, categorize the operating systems and applications on those assets, and then report vulnerabilities related to security.

A high-quality vulnerability management product will report both security vulnerabilities and suggest some remediation advice. This remediation process will usually involve patching the vulnerable system, but it may also involve implementing configuration changes. If there are multiple known vulnerabilities, you should get a report back that lists them in order of priority.

Once you address those vulnerabilities – your patches have been implemented and the changes have been made – you can repeat the vulnerability scan to ensure that the issues have been taken care of.

Patch management vs. vulnerability management key similarities

Patch management and vulnerability management do overlap in a number of areas, and their goals are deeply intertwined. Successful execution of both processes will require your IT department to have a comprehensive inventory of the hardware and software assets under its purview – as well as their configuration details.

Both patch and vulnerability management are also time-sensitive matters. In fact, more than 90% of exploitations occur after the patch for a vulnerability has been released. Think about it: Patch releases let the public know that a vulnerability exists, so you need to cover your bases quickly before you get taken advantage of.

That’s why IT automation has really taken off. With an automated patching system like Atera’s, you won’t have to worry so much about cyberattacks. The moment a vendor announces a vulnerability, hackers become aware of it too – and they’re ready to act. That means you need to act first, which is achieved much more easily with automation.

While patch management and vulnerability management are two strategies that can be used together in a tandem manner, IT professionals sometimes need to decide which is best for solving a problem. In the long term, true success and safety boil down to a strategy comprised of both patch and vulnerability management.

Both patch management and vulnerability management are crucial components of maintaining cybersecurity within IT departments. While patch management ensures that software, operating systems, and applications are updated and secure, patch management policy dictates the strategies and procedures for implementing these updates effectively.

Patch management vs. vulnerability management key differences

Although they support common workflows and goals (such as risk assessment, prioritization, and mitigation of security vulnerabilities), patch management and vulnerability management tools are typically operated independently and are deployed and managed by different people within an IT department.

The key difference between the two systems is that a patch management system will generally not be able to tell you if there is an existing vulnerability in a piece of software – it’s not made to conduct scans, just to execute the patches and code rewrites that vendors put out. Vulnerability management systems, on the other hand, actively look for security risks.

That said, most vulnerability management systems cannot actually fix the problems they spot, although they may offer advice on how to go about doing so. That’s why vulnerability management and patch management need each other: One is the problem finder while the other is the problem fixer.

Patch management vs. vulnerability management key similarities: best practices

While there’s no magic code word that can lead you to totally seamless vulnerability and patch management. However, modern technology has allowed for innovations and workflow optimizations that have significantly reduced security risks in the It world.

First and foremost, it’s important to implement both patch management and vulnerability management. Using one without the other is like putting on just one of your shoes in the morning – you’re off-balance, more likely to trip, and frankly, neither of your feet is feeling incredibly good.

One way to ensure that your patch management and vulnerability management systems are working in tandem is to combine the teams working on these areas. Many IT departments have historically separated out these processes, but ensuring that end-to-end resolution is realized requires solid communication and teamwork between the people working on each.

Some of the top best practices we recommend are as follows:

  • Scan daily. Automating your vulnerability management will save lots of time and resources in this area so that you’re able to have real-time visibility into your organization’s vulnerabilities.
  • Prioritize vulnerabilities. When you get a report from a vulnerability scan, ensure that you’re addressing the issues it informs you of in order of highest to lowest risk. You don’t want malware, ransomware groups, or threat actors getting into your system.
  • Patch high-risk vulnerabilities. Addressing the highest-risk issues first, especially those that are on the perimeter. It’s best to do this within 48 hours of discovering a risk.
  • Automate patch management. When you automate the patching of applications that introduce the most vulnerabilities into your environment, you’ll save yourself tons of time and energy. You’ll be able to devote your team’s power to other, more mission-critical areas instead.

Generally speaking, it’s crucial that any IT department understands the connection between vulnerability management and patch management. In today’s modern world, automating these processes with features like those that Atera offers can give your team an opportunity to streamline this work while simultaneously keeping your systems safer than ever.

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