Cyberdefense programs need to develop methods for ensuring security across their endpoints, such as individual computers and smart devices. One impactful approach is patch management, the practice of scanning for gaps or issues and developing patches to resolve them as soon as possible. Therefore, it’s essential for a chief information security officer (CISO) to understand endpoint security patch management concepts and best practices.
Endpoint Security Patch Management: What CISOs Should Know
All CISOs and other information security executives should consider implementing endpoint security management through rigorous, centralized endpoint patch monitoring. To that effect, there are four essential considerations about endpoint security patch management for CISOs:
- The reasons companies should implement endpoint security and patch management
- Best practices CISOs can take to manage all endpoint patch monitoring effectively
- Biggest challenges to effective CISO-level endpoint security and patch management
- A comprehensive, third-party virtual CISO solution to assist efforts
Reasons Why Endpoint Security Patch Monitoring is Critical
Every physical device that connects to your company’s network expands your attack surface and increases security complexity. Endpoints include employees’ workstations and computers, along with all smart and Internet of Things (IoT) devices that come into contact with your networks.
Endpoint security challenges (e.g., the growth of personal devices connected to company networks) make these numerous devices an attractive target for cyberattacks. Without patch management, these devices are prone to the following endpoint security threats:
- Ransomware – Ransomware attacks can target specific categories of endpoints, such as those requiring frequent patches or that are owned or managed by vulnerable personnel.
- Low visibility – Because companies’ endpoints grow more numerous and complex over time, it becomes increasingly challenging to inventory what devices there are, assess what needs they have, and implement and update protections.
- Data leakage – Endpoints are targets for attackers because of the data they house or allow access to. Data can leak without detection if the proper and updated safeguards aren’t in place, particularly if a company falls victim to the growing use of “fileless” endpoint attacks.
Companies need to monitor for gaps among other cybersecurity architecture issues, especially as they pertain to endpoints. An issue with one endpoint is an issue for all of them.
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Why Choose a Combined, Centralized Endpoint and Patch Management?
Collectively, the threats above are the most significant reasons companies need to make monitoring for gaps a critical component of their endpoint security management. On another level, the fact that they are interconnected is a primary reason that endpoint management and patch management should be similarly intertwined.
The best and most efficient way to manage endpoint security is through the role of the chief information security executive—whether a CISO proper or a third-party team. Centralizing your efforts under an experienced team leader and project manager streamlines planning and execution.
Best Practices for CISO-Level Endpoint Patch Management
Beyond centralizing and streamlining endpoint security and patch management, the most critical individual capacities for an effective, executive-led endpoint security management program are:
- Detection – Companies need to scan for and detect security deficiencies as soon as possible. System-wide assessments of all endpoints should happen at regular intervals.
- Response – Once a gap or issue in an endpoint’s security configuration is identified, a patch deployment plan must be developed and implemented immediately to resolve it.
- Analysis – When gaps are identified, a root cause analysis (RCA) should determine how and why they occurred. Security teams should establish protocols to avoid future lapses in security integrity.
- Compliance – Regular endpoint scans should also assess all endpoints for safeguards and other requirements pertinent to all applicable regulatory compliance frameworks.
These collective practices make up the core of a managed detection and response (MDR) program. While generally trained on a broader category of threats and risks, MDR can focus on patching endpoints monitoring exclusively or integrate endpoint patches into risk management.
Endpoint Patch Management Across All Cybersecurity Architecture
An effective and efficient endpoint patch management program needs to be integrated across all of a company’s information technology infrastructure elements. Your cybersecurity architecture implementation should secure endpoints and everything they connect to, including:
- Cloud architecture – Companies must monitor endpoint activity on all cloud platforms, especially those not company-owned or operated.
- Network architecture – Companies must restrict endpoints’ access to all private (trusted) networks and safeguard those connected to public (unsecured) networks.
- Enterprise architecture – Companies should design for future growth, with endpoint patch monitoring for all current assets and future systems at accelerating growth scales.
Other critical considerations that depend on a company’s business model may include distinct safeguards for employee-owned mobile devices (e.g., bring your own device policies) or endpoints used for application development.
Penetration Testing: An Advanced Endpoint Management Solution
One solution that can provide deeper insights than many basic security scans is the practice of penetration testing. Penetration testing allows a company to test for gaps across its security by simulating an attack that focuses on one or more endpoints, observing any vulnerabilities a cybercriminal may exploit, then patching them.
There are many different penetration testing services available. Most rely on varying levels of insight.
“Black box” approaches provide testers with little to no information about their target, whereas “white box” approaches provide testers with transparency into their target and insight. “Grey box” testing provides some degree of target knowledge. Either can be effective for endpoint security.
Note that a black box endpoint pen-test can be more realistic, but a white box pen-test can be more targeted and reveal more vulnerabilities.
Significant Challenges to Endpoint Security Patch Management
Endpoint security efforts are not always straightforward, even in a centralized and streamlined patch management system. Larger companies remain especially prone to management challenges.
The most significant challenges to patch management across all endpoints fall into three categories:
- Amount – The number of endpoints your company owns, operates, oversees, or is otherwise accountable for with respect to cybersecurity (e.g., third-party endpoints)
- Diversity – The range of endpoints with respect to different security requirements, such as efficiencies and synergies (or lack thereof) across uniform devices
- Security – The required or optimal security configurations with respect to individual and collective endpoints, including continual updates (which can differ widely, particularly with greater diversity)
These factors grow larger and more complex as companies scale upward. Increasing device inventories and diversity of employees, offerings, and clients further complicate attack surfaces and their protections. And, as your company becomes more valuable, so does its data. The more lucrative a target for cybercrime you become, the more difficult (and critical) it is to defend all endpoints.
Compounding Endpoint Regulatory Compliance Requirements
Many challenges to endpoint patch management relate to devices’ characteristics, but others have more to do with the regulatory compliance environment in which they operate. For example, certain factors related to your company’s industry, location, or business activity (e.g., processing credit card payments) significantly impact all endpoints’ privacy and security requirements.
For example, businesses in or operating alongside the healthcare industry are likely covered entities. They need to ensure all endpoints remain compliant with HIPAA’s Privacy Rule and Security Rule. Companies that store, process, or transmit credit card data must ensure all endpoints uphold cardholder data privacy, per the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS).
Companies may also need to safeguard endpoints per GDPR or CCPA requirements if clients are citizens of the European Union or residents of California, respectively. Other locations may similarly be subject to specific regulations. Companies may have to adhere to multiple compliance frameworks simultaneously, with efforts compounding in difficulty due to the collective variables all covered endpoints pose.
Challenges of Third-Party Risks in Endpoint Patch Management
Another factor that complicates endpoint security management is that companies need to account for a wide variety of endpoints they don’t own or manage. For example, endpoints in the home of a remote worker that connect to the same networks as company resources might not appear on internal inventories. Posing an elevated threat due to this lack of monitoring, they could still potentially compromise company security.
However, a more crucial area of concern is other businesses’ endpoints that regularly come into contact with your infrastructure. These include devices owned and operated by vendors, contractors, services, and all other third parties in your extended network of strategic partners. Number, diversity, and security factors multiply across these third parties, their networks, and their strategic partners.
Endpoint security needs to incorporate third party risk management to inventory these devices and exert as much control over their security configurations and user behaviors as possible.
One Optimal Endpoint Management Solution: The Virtual CISO
Another challenge security executives face implementing endpoint security management is the lack of a dedicated CISO or diminished resources available for executive security functions. For these companies, developing a centralized program might seem inaccessible. However, outsourcing responsibilities such as patch management to an external, virtual CISO (vCISO) can make ongoing efforts much more feasible.
RSI Security’s vCISO services include robust, flexible solutions across three primary categories:
- Security Advisory – A team of cybersecurity experts applies their unmatched depth and breadth of knowledge to all program development and implementation elements.
- Security Awareness – All internal staff receives in-depth, progressive training to instill a culture of cybersecurity vigilance, enforcing accountability through engaging training and real-time exercises.
- Incident Management – Seamless monitoring and preparation ensures any security event that does occur is minimal in reach and impact, with a swift and complete recovery.
An external vCISO is an optimal solution for all endpoint security management and patch management responsibilities, either as a combined centralized system or as distinct programs. The service also provides comprehensive expertise covering all elements of cybersecurity and at a lower cost than internal CISOs.
Other Endpoint Security Patch Management Considerations
Companies will want either a traditional or virtual CISO to oversee the execution of endpoint security patch management tasks. However, companies without a CISO have no reason to fear: it’s possible to run an impactful endpoint patch management program without one. The most significant infrastructure requirements for facilitating endpoint security are visibility and monitoring across all endpoints. Many threat and vulnerability management programs can be configured to target endpoint patches specifically.
Also, companies with an internal or virtual CISO who needs to prioritize other areas can outsource their endpoint patch management to a managed security service provider (MSSP).
On another level entirely, endpoint security management and patch management do not have to be bundled together to be effective. Some companies may need one more than the other. Other companies may find that an optimal solution for managing both requires treating each one separately, with distinct programs and dedicated internal or external teams.
Separate Endpoint Security Management and Patch Management
Companies who deem it more valuable to implement endpoint security and patch management separately can address the former through strategies that approximate patch monitoring’s impact.
For example, any company that cannot adequately inventory all endpoints and patch needs can instead implement robust access control measures, such as “zero trust architecture” (ZTA). ZTA optimizes access control and visibility across the cloud, regardless of endpoint locations or any other characteristics. Companies can also restrict and monitor user behavior through identity and access management (IAM) practices, such as:
- Minimum credential complexity requirements, coupled with frequent updates
- Monitored and timed access sessions, with frequent re-authentication required
- Multifactor authentication, which enforces an additional layer of identity verifications (i.e., require users to input their standard credentials along with something they know, have, or are)
- Date and time restrictions that enforce stricter authentication or prevent it entirely outside of regular work hours
- Authorizations restricted by the “principle of least privilege,” which states that users should only be assigned the access they need to complete their responsibilities—no more, no less
On the other hand, patch management that operates independently from endpoint security will generally focus on specific antivirus software or individual regulatory compliance requirements.
Professional Patch and Endpoint Management Solutions
All CISOs should understand the inner workings of endpoint security patch management because most companies benefit immensely from a combined, centralized approach. In addition, insufficient endpoint security poses severe risks to companies.
Ideally, your endpoint security and patch management efforts should feature full integration across all devices and enforce advanced measures commensurate with the threats a company faces. Challenges come from expanding infrastructure, device inventories, and device diversity (and corresponding needs), but outsourcing to a vCISO or MSSP can make endpoint security management accessible for any organization.
Contact RSI Security today to get started!