A 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report stated that over 70% of successful cyber attacks exploited known security vulnerabilities that had patches available. Although this report is old news, it points to one glaring fact. Organizations and people are not prompt in updating their systems with the latest security patches. 

These patches can perform several functions, from fixing security vulnerabilities and improving the OS to addressing a specific bug and general stability issues. Patches are critical to keeping your systems updated, stable and safe from cyber threats. 

In this article, we are going to explore how patches help resolve security vulnerabilities. 

What are security vulnerabilities, and how do patches help fix them? 

Patches are an integral part of preventive maintenance for software, programs, systems, OS, networks and embedded systems. The latest patches, when applied promptly, function as armour that keeps your systems safe from new cyber threats. With hackers getting innovative and gaining access to better technology, developers spend a considerable amount of time building security patches. But those patches are useless unless applied regularly. 

Back in 2008, the Conficker worm was discovered. The worm spread like wildfire to over 9 million PCs using unpatched versions of Microsoft Windows. The unfortunate part is that even after releasing a security patch, millions of computers remained infected because people did not update their systems. Even a single infected device is a chink in the cybersecurity armour of any organization. 

It is clear that security patches are important to cybersecurity. When patches are not regularly applied, it can leave behind a trail of security vulnerabilities for hackers to leverage. Please read on to find out how. 

Scanning software to identify vulnerable systems

Hackers trick users into downloading malicious software (malware) by exploiting security loopholes in web browsers. Expert hackers can design software that, once downloaded, scan through the entire device to identify vulnerabilities. Once hackers use this mechanism to identify vulnerable systems, they record and store the systems’ IP addresses. These compromised addresses are either sold to the highest bidder or used for other malicious actions. The worst part is that the downloaded malware remains on your computer the entire time and keeps scanning your network (and system) for additional vulnerabilities. That means, even if a security loophole did not exist initially, the malware might detect and exploit one later if there is a delay in a security patch update. 

Simply put, occasionally updating your system is not adequate. It is crucial to apply the patch updates as soon as they are available from the vendor to ensure the best possible level of protection from cyber threats. 

Toehold to attack a network and its connected systems

Even if the data is securely stored and a strong cybersecurity perimeter is set up, all it takes is one compromised device to compromise multiple workstations and servers on your network. 

Experienced hackers first seek to compromise one device to covertly control the entire organizational network subsequently. Even if there is just one device with a missing security patch update, hackers can use it as the main entry point called a toehold. 

Instead of merely exploiting that single device, the hacker will use it to gain unauthorized access to the whole network, putting the entire organization at risk. Hackers steal critical data, such as financial documents, employee data, customer information and so on, through this method. 

Moreover, hackers aim to conduct this operation stealthily. So, it is hard to counter them or even notice that a data breach has occurred. 

Long term infections

Patch updates prevent cyber threats and keep systems safe. But because many organizations do not diligently apply patches, they stand the risk of long-term malware infections in their IT system. Hackers deploy malware that resides in the system for as long as a patch update is missing (or the malware is detected). It remains in the background while carrying out its malicious intent. Often this malware does not even act initially. Once it is in the system, it waits for an opportune moment and strikes when the rewards are high and the risks low. 

Conclusion 

Patch updates play a key role in dealing with security vulnerabilities. Regularly updating your systems keeps cyber threats to a minimum. After all, a successful cyber attack can mean a missing security control, an insecure configuration, or a lack of security awareness.