Patch management that is consistent and efficient has never been more critical in keeping your security infrastructure up to date and secure. Although today’s endpoint management solutions include patch management functionalities, third-party patching is an area that shouldn’t be forgotten.

In this post, we will cover the importance of third-party application patching and the challenges it can address for your organization.

What is a third-party application?

A third-party application is a type of software designed by an independent vendor other than the initial manufacturer of the device. Common examples of third-party app vendors, include Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat Reader, TeamViewer, and others.

What is third-party patching and why is it important?

Third-party patching involves applying patch updates to third-party applications that have been installed on your business endpoints, which includes desktops, laptops, servers, and other devices. Third-party patch management patches vulnerabilities that, if exploited, can jeopardize the security and functionality of software. Vulnerabilities expose your company’s attack surfaces to malicious actors looking for opportunities to access your network.

So, why is patching third-party applications important to your business?

Patching software vulnerabilities is a key driver for preventing future cyberattacks on your organization. The vulnerabilities found in your business’s third-party apps opens the flood gates for hackers.

These malicious adversaries spread in your systems through techniques such as privilege escalation and lateral movement, seeking out sensitive information and valuable data. Patching third-party vulnerabilities reduces the likelihood of an attack while also fixing the bugs to improve software functionality. Another reason your organization should consider third-party patching is that it can help your business satisfy necessary compliance regulations.

The risks to your business when neglecting to patch third-party applications

In 2021, 93% of companies experienced a cybersecurity breach of some kind due to third-party vendors or supply chain weakness. With the average cost of a data breach in the US at an astounding $9.4 million, the repercussions of a cyber incident caused by unpatched vulnerabilities are detrimental. Consequentially, an attack of such magnitude causes disruption to daily workflows, productivity, and in cases causes reputational harm. Neglecting to patch third-party apps is a risk your company can’t afford.

When security teams choose not to consistently patch endpoints, your risk of exposure to potential cyberattacks increases. In 2021 for instance, Log4Shell, a software vulnerability in Apache Log4j 2, took the world by storm. For more information on Log4Shell, read the Malwarebytes blog post - What SMBs can do to protect against Log4Shell attacks.

What can businesses learn from vulnerabilities like Log4Shell? The third-party application patch management process is essential. Although third-party app vendors don’t strictly adhere to a patch release schedule, they normally do this when a vulnerability is discovered with a patch being released to address it. Read our article on Security vulnerabilities: 5 times businesses (and governments) got hacked for more information on how hackers exploited vulnerabilities like Log4Shell to attack organizations.

It’s challenging for organizations to keep up with all the software updates and available patches for third-party apps. More companies rely on third-party applications for their day-to-day business operations. Adhering to patch management best practices can help alleviate your security team’s load and enhance your organization’s cyber prevention.

What is automated third-party patching?

Automated patch management allows businesses to automatically scan endpoint devices for patches that are needed and automate the distribution of patches. In some situations, automated patching allows businesses to flexibly schedule patching deployments so that the third-party patching process doesn’t interrupt daily workflows. This automation eliminates the grunt work of manual patching where system admins would otherwise spend hours applying software patches themselves.

What are the drawbacks of automated patch management software?

Automated patch management can help minimize manual workloads and improve your company’s security posture. But it should be noted that automating the patch management process comes with increased operational risk depending on the situation.

Depending on the type of security infrastructure your organization has, implementing automated patch management software to a system that relies heavily on manual infrastructure deployment and managing may not be the best option. Security architecture that’s legacy-application heavy is not ideal for automated patch management. This is especially the case for integral applications - a minute of downtime causes dramatic organizational losses.

A common misconception is that automated third-party patching means your systems are more secure. While automatic patching helps your company maintain strong security posture, it is not a cure-all for security and is limited to its pre-programmed policies used to scan and identify missing patches. As more companies adopt cloud-native security infrastructure, the easier it will be to automate third-party patching.

Third-party patch management vs vulnerability management – Let’s compare the two processes

Third-party software patch management is centralized on grouping, prioritizing, and identifying missing patches in third-party applications. Patch management vendors created patch management solutions to tackle patches, but not all patches will resolve security flaws. For this reason, patch management products alone can’t effectively secure your organization.

Vulnerability management addresses your security risks by identifying security vulnerabilities in your systems. These vulnerabilities include a range of security issues where in some cases deploying a patch is not the solution to a particular vulnerability. Other vulnerabilities could involve security training for staff, configuring firewall policies, or making changes to your network.

Third-party Patch Management and Compliance

Timely and consistent third-party patching reinforces your cybersecurity prevention.

Third-party applications need to be continually updated to decrease your risk of infection. Leaving third-party apps unpatched or out of date can hinder your organization from achieving patch compliance requirements. Cybersecurity regulatory compliance such as PCI (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), all set standards for patch deployment and security patching protocols.

Interested in learning more about cyberattack prevention with vulnerability assessment and patch management tools? Visit our Vulnerability and Patch Management Modules and explore related content below.

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Listen to Lock and Code – Why software has so many vulnerabilities, with Tanya Janca
Malwarebytes’ modernized bug bounty program – here’s all you need to know
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Request a demo of our Vulnerability Assessment and Patch Management module