Patch Me If You Can

July 24, 2017 | Leave a Comment

By Yogi Chandiramani, Technical Director/EMEA, Zscaler

In May, the worldwide WannaCry attack infected more than 200,000 workstations. A month later, just as organizations were regaining their footing, we saw another ransomware attack, which impacted businesses in more than 65 countries.

What have we learned about these attacks?

  • Compromises/infections can happen no matter what types of controls you implement – zero risk does not exist
  • The security research community collaborated to identify indicators of compromise (IOCs) and provide steps for mitigation
  • Organizations with an incident response plan were more effective at mitigating risk
  • Enterprises with a patching strategy and process were better protected

Patching effectively
Two months before the attack, Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability that WannaCry exploited. But, because many systems did not receive the patch, and because WannaCry was so widely publicized, the patching debate made it to companies’ board-level leadership, garnering the sponsorship needed for a companywide patch strategy.

Even so, the attack of June 27 spread laterally using the SMB protocol a month after WannaCry, by which time most systems should have been patched. Does the success of this campaign reflect a disregard for the threat? A lack of urgency when it comes to patching? Or does the problem come down to the sheer volume of patches?

Too many security patches
As we deploy more software and more devices to drive productivity and improve business outcomes, we create new vulnerabilities. Staying ahead of them is daunting, with the need to continually update security systems, and patch end-user devices running different operating systems and software versions. Along with patch and version management, there is change control, outage windows, documentation processes, post-patch support, and more. And it’s only getting worse.

The following graph illustrates the severity of vulnerabilities over time, and you can see that halfway through 2017, the number of disclosed vulnerabilities is already close to the overall patch volume of 2016.

source: National Vulnerability Database, a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (https://nvd.nist.gov/vuln-metrics/visualizations/cvss-severity-distribution-over-time)

The challenge for companies is the sheer number of patches that need to be processed to remain fully up to date (a volume that continues to increase). Technically speaking, systems will always be one step behind in terms of vulnerability patching.

Companies must become aware of security gap
In light of the recent large-scale attacks, companies should revisit their patching strategy as a part of their fundamental security posture. Where are the gaps? The only way to know is through global visibility — for example, visibility into vulnerable clients or identifying botnet traffic — which provides key insights in terms of where to start and focus.

Your security platform’s access logs are a gold mine, providing data as well as context, with information such as who, when, where, and how traffic is flowing through the network. The following screen capture is a sample log showing a botnet callback attempt. With this information, you can see where to where to focus your attention and your security investments.

In the following example, you can identify potentially vulnerable browsers or plugins. It’s important to ensure that your update strategies include these potential entry points for malware, as well.

These are but two examples of potential gaps that can be easily closed with the appropriate insight into what software and versions are being used within an organisation. As a next step, companies should focus on patching those gaps with the highest known risk as a starting point.

But patching remains an onerous, largely manual task that is difficult to manage. A better alternative is a cloud-delivered security-as-a-service solution, which automates updates and the patching process. With threat actors becoming increasingly inventive as they design their next exploits, it pays to have a forward-thinking strategy that reduces the administrative overhead, improves visibility, and delivers protections that are always up to date.

 

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