What is Virtual Patching and How It Is Helpful in Vulnerability Management?

Statistics point that known vulnerabilities in applications constitute the primary source of successful cyberattacks. According to Gartner’s prediction — 99% of successful cyberattacks will continue involving vulnerabilities known to corporate executives. The high severity flaws, which go unpatched for long period are highly prone to error and often impossible to defend from attackers. The most appropriate solution is patching — a kind of code rewriting to remediate software vulnerabilities in certain applications and operating systems.

Software patching focuses on resolving or fixing issues that affect functionality. These days, with the progress of more targeted and sophisticated threats that are happening in shorter cycles, the patching focus is changing. With consumer confidence, corporate’s reputations, and secrets at risk, the enterprise should recognize the need to address vulnerabilities at a faster pace. This race to patch known vulnerabilities brings forth an innovative approach called Virtual Patching.

What is Virtual Patching?

Virtual patching is a process of addressing security flaws immediately to shield them from being exploited and fixing the code later. Like the software patch provided by a vendor, deep security virtual patching protects against a certain exploit. However, the main difference, in this case, is the patching is deployed at the network level rather than on the machine itself. Virtual patching is something called proximity control because it blocks a threat before it exploits its intended target.

It serves as an emergency security tool that organizations can use to instantly address vulnerabilities on affected endpoints and servers.

In what scenarios are virtual patching appropriate and is it recommended way to obtain a faster fix for a flaw? — To find answers to quick questions keep reading this blog.

Why Do We Need Patching?

The most critical task that security teams struggle is how to safeguard their assets against existing and emerging vulnerabilities. Most malware exploits known vulnerabilities (CVE’s — Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures). These are vulnerabilities that organizations have a fix, but the code is still found to be flawed.

According to the 2020 Vulnerability Statistics Report by Edgescan, on average of 67.7% of organizations’ assets have at least one CVE. Here is CVE dispersing and clustering:

Image source: Edgescan

The most straightforward solution is to patch the system against flaws with a software patch developed to prevent possible misuse. For both externally and internally facing systems, detection of vulnerabilities and addressing them with patching is a must.

Even if a vulnerability is not a critical risk, it might be the point of an exploit for attackers. Frequent vulnerability detection and control over incoming and external traffic is core to enhance malware resilience.

How to Solve Patching Problems?

Software patching is both a solution for code flaw and a cause of frustration as it is an annoyance of the network admin’s workload. So why accurate and timely patching of vulnerable systems is important?

Patching a vulnerable system can take days, weeks, or even months, especially if there is an issue that patching might affect the app’s core functionalities.

There are some challenges which make patching even longer:

  • Cost Reduction — IT team may delay software patching as it could demand costly upgrade or replacement of the legacy system or re-building of enterprise application.
  • Official Patch Deployment — When patching is not made available by the software vendor, patching may be delayed
  • Uptime Preservation — IT team may pause to patch as it could require keeping the business-critical servers offline

Cybercriminals are in a constant sprint to exploit discovered vulnerabilities before enterprises have a chance to defend. FireEye Mandiant Threat Intelligence Research suggests that most of the vulnerability exploitation happens before the issuance of the patch or within few days of the patch was issued.

The speed with which hackers exploit vulnerabilities highlights the necessity of patching as fast as possible. However, delay in patching means the enterprise is at risk of attacks, and the cybercriminals obtain all the details they need to exploit, which entails the following issues:

  • Security measure compromise
  • Critical Data Exposure
  • Network and System Compromise
  • Reputational Loss
  • Financial Loss

With the increased quantity of security vulnerabilities disclosed each year; it can be hard for enterprises with business constraints and limited resources to deploy patches as quickly as possible. Technologies like deep security virtual patching can aid this patching management process by shielding both known as well as unknown vulnerabilities.

Patch Vulnerabilities with Virtual Patching

Virtual patching involves implementing a layer of security policy, which prevents and intercept the exploitation of vulnerabilities. An effective virtual patching solution includes capabilities to inspect and block malevolent activity from web traffic, detect & prevent intrusions, prevent attacks on web applications, and adaptably deploy on the cloud, or physical environments. Virtual patching solutions give security administrators a chance to review, test as well as schedule official software patches without leaving the critical system at risk.

Unlike traditional patching, it enables a flaw to be fixed without touching its libraries, the OS, or even the device it is running on. It focuses on fixing an issue by changing or eliminating dangerous behavior by taking control of the inputs and outputs of web applications. They target traffic endeavoring that utilize a known vulnerability and actively interrupt and block the traffic before it exploits the target system.

Deep security virtual patching gives you the option to protect the apps without patching them. The virtual patching solutions are faster, doesn’t require application language programming, and controls the patch cycle without compromising security. All these happen without having to keep the production servers down, which means your business can stay up and running.

Circumstances where virtual patching solutions are critical

  • Virtual patching offers a short-term stop-gap solution for a critical level of coverage until a permanent patch is available
  • Before deploying a permanent patch, it should be validated to check whether the patch will trigger new issues. This validation phase introduces additional delays. Deep security virtual patching is critical at this initial warm phase to shield the known vulnerabilities from exploitations.
  • Virtual patching is even more important for assets, which require considerable planning as well as downtime for a permanent patch to be deployed. These assets include pipeline monitoring systems, and machines running critical systems, which play a crucial role in critical infrastructures like a hydroelectric dam or electrical grids, which can’t be taken down.

How Can Businesses Benefit from Virtual Patching?

Here’s how virtual patching solutions augment an enterprise’s existing cybersecurity management technology and vulnerability management policies:

  • Buys additional time to address flaws — the most significant benefit of virtual patching is it gives the IT teams enough time required to assess the code flaw as well as test and apply required patches.
  • Ensures stronger security — It offers instant-on protection for the vulnerable components in the IT infrastructure, which can’t be patched immediately
  • Enhance regulatory compliance — It aids businesses to meet the timelines requirements like those imposed by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and PCI (Payment Card Industry)
  • Offers flexibility — Virtual patching solutions reduce the requirement to roll out emergency patches thereby simplifies the task. Further with just input validation, you can simply update the security policy instead of adjusting the application code. It simplifies the process as well as enabling you to respond to vulnerabilities within hours.

Virtual Patching Tools

Deep Security virtual patching can be achieved by employing various tools including Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), Web Application Firewall (WAF), application layer filter, and web server plugin.

When selecting a tool for your virtual patching solutions, consider these listed features:

  • The virtual patching tool must be capable to break up the HTTP request into headers, parameters & uploaded files and inspect each element separately
  • It must have anti-evasion capabilities, like data sanitization and character encoding
  • The tool must be able to implement robust security rules for complex logic instead of depending only on signatures

Among the virtual patching tools, the Web Application Firewall offers the most sustainable solution for virtual patching. Moreover, market leading WAF like AppTrana works well in securing your websites and applications. In addition to satisfying all the above criteria to implement virtual patching in no time, AppTrana ensures end-to-end, highly scalable, and easy to deploy cloud-based solution to protect your assets against known vulnerabilities and possible attacks.

The Closure

Undeniably, virtual patching is a valuable technique to obtain immediate protection against known vulnerabilities. To benefit from the virtual patching solutions, be conscious of public vulnerability disclosure, and perform your source code reviews and web application scanning for vulnerability assessments. Of course, virtual patching is an invaluable technique to respond to an event immediately, however, it is not an alternative technique to permanent patching. Virtual patching can only ensure reliable protection in the interim; you still need to deploy permanent patching whenever possible.

For more cybersecurity features and news, follow Indusface on Twitter and Facebook.

Originally published at https://www.indusface.com.




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