What is Virtual Patching?

What is Virtual Patching

Software flaws, which are known as vulnerabilities, are one of the most troublesome aspects of information security since hackers enjoy taking advantage of them. In today’s world, every company has a variety of web apps that are vulnerable to cyberattacks. They are comprised of a large number of vulnerabilities that have very little of being immediately remedied.

You don’t want any obstacles to get in the way of your transformation strategy, especially when the velocity of digital change quickens. To maintain a competitive advantage and avoid delays of any kind, issues need to be resolved as quickly as possible.

What exactly is meant by “virtual patching”?

The process of planning and implementing a temporary approach to mitigate the risks of exploitation related to the discovery of new security vulnerabilities are referred to as virtual patching. Hackers will no longer have the opportunity to discover and exploit any security weaknesses in the system or applications because of this.

Using virtual patching, you can keep hostile traffic out of a vulnerable program while still enforcing the security update you’ve already applied. It allows programmers and security administrators to continue using an application or system while a vulnerability fix is being researched, created, and tested.

Why Do We Need Patching?

Protecting against known and newly discovered vulnerabilities is the goal of virtual patching, which is also known as vulnerability shielding. The process of virtual patching involves implementing many levels of security policies and regulations to prevent and intercept exploits as they follow network paths to and from exposed vulnerabilities. A great number of companies are enthusiastically amplifying their businesses to speed up and automate the processes that affect their staff and customers. During this process, they do not do an adequate security check on the applications.

Whether they were developed in-house or obtained from a third-party vendor, many applications come pre-loaded with several security flaws for no discernible reason. The following are some of how virtual patching might complement the existing security technologies as well as the vulnerability and patch management policies of an organization:

  1. You will have extra time as a result Through the use of virtual patching, security teams can evaluate the vulnerability, conduct tests on it, and apply updates that are both essential and permanent. Virtual patching is beneficial to in-house applications since it allows developers and programmers additional time to fix vulnerabilities in their code.
  2. Helps to avoid unneeded periods of downtime The implementation of patch management best practices on an organization’s timeline is made easier with the flexibility provided by virtual patching. This lessens the likelihood that the company will suffer financial losses as a result of unanticipated or unneeded disruptions in its operations.
  3. Enhances regulatory compliance The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union and (PCI DSS) both have timeliness criteria that must be met by businesses. Virtual patching can help businesses satisfy these requirements (PCI).
  4. Provides an additional safeguard for the system By using virtual patching, security controls can be extended to IT infrastructures for which updates are no longer released (for example, obsolete systems and operating systems that have reached the end of their support lifecycles, such as Windows Server 2008). Patching these systems would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.
  5. Enables a higher degree of adaptability and flexibility The use of virtual patching eradicates the requirement for the distribution of workarounds or emergency patches. It makes jobs easier to complete, such as locating specific locations in the network that need to be patched (or if a patch requires to be applied to all systems).

How to Solve Patching Problems?

Even while companies are aware of the obvious benefits of patching rapidly, they may be cautious to apply any upgrades that could potentially impede operations or harm important systems. Patching has always been a problem for companies.

If there are no protocols in place, patching can be a significant strain. Since many organizations cannot afford the downtime, they choose to accept the risks rather than deal with the load. In addition to this, there are several other reasons to delay patching, including the fact that resources can be restricted, legacy systems might be forgotten about when patching, or, even worse, certain systems might be so outdated that they cannot be fixed.

Enterprises that are constrained by their businesses and have a limited number of resources may find it difficult to apply patches as rapidly as feasible due to the growing number of security vulnerabilities that are discovered each year. 

Patching is something that is very required for any business, regardless of its size. It may require some time and resources, but if appropriate procedures have been developed and effective solutions have been implemented, it will become less of a drain on operations. It has been pointed out by several different businesses that the expenditure is money well spent.

Patching is only the first step in developing an all-encompassing security plan. The use of an audit tool to assist businesses in including critical fixes in a scheduled patch cycle is another viable option, as is virtual patching for interim protection.

In the past, the presence of a network defense layer has been used to rationalize the delay associated with deploying fixes on the servers located locally. The outside-in strategy has traditionally been used as the standard method for large enterprises. Corrections to the vulnerabilities in the servers and applications themselves are the very last resort.

Patch Vulnerabilities with Virtual Patching

In contrast to more conventional methods of patching, this one enables a vulnerability to be patched without affecting the libraries, the operating system, or even the device it is executing on. It focuses on addressing an issue by modifying or eliminating harmful behavior by taking control of the inputs and outputs of web apps. 

They actively interrupt and prevent traffic that is attempting to exploit a known vulnerability in the target system, and they focus their attention on traffic that is attempting to exploit that vulnerability.

The use of virtual patches offers several advantages over more conventional patching methods, including the following:

  • A Scalable Solution Implementing Virtual Patch is Convenient because it Only Needs to Be Installed on a Few Locations Instead of Every Host Rather than Traditional Patch, which Needs to Be Installed on Every Hos
  • Lessens the Potential for Harm This helps in lessening the potential for harm until a fix that has been offered by the vendor is issued, tested, and implemented.
  • Preventing Downtime This safeguards the essential computer systems that must maintain high availability at all times and cannot be brought offline.
  • Cost Reduction The amount of time and money spent on promptly fixing the vulnerability is reduced or eliminated as a result of this feature.

How Can Businesses Benefit from Virtual Patching?

The purpose of an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) is to monitor traffic to identify and stop malicious actions. In addition, it can be used to identify and prevent efforts to attack certain vulnerabilities if the appropriate signature is attached to it. If a specific danger can be identified, then it is possible to adjust the network rules in such a way as to prevent or disrupt the execution of the exploit. 

This is because the execution of any exploit requires that it take a predetermined course via the network. At the level of the network, customized IPS signatures, also known as virtual patches, may be installed by employing the IPS functionality that is either built into an NGFW or a typical standalone IPS device.

The following are some examples of situations in which virtual patching is necessary:

  • Virtual patches provide businesses with an essential degree of coverage that may be utilized while waiting for a vendor to distribute a software patch that addresses a newly discovered vulnerability.
  • The updates are not instantly deployed by a significant number of large businesses because these businesses use standard patch management procedures. For instance, many IT teams need to assess whether or not a patch would bring new difficulties in situations where a large number of apps and procedures are required to communicate with one another. After a software patch has been released by a vendor, extra delays are caused by this validation testing. Virtual patching offers vital coverage during the initial “warm” phase of an active malware campaign. This helps to shield known vulnerabilities from being exploited by malicious actors while the company tests the patch that was provided by the vendor.
  • Traditional patches need extensive planning and downtime to implement, making virtual patching even more important for mission-critical assets. Virtual patching, on the other hand, doesn’t require any of those things. 

What factors contribute to the difficulty of patching for businesses?

The following is a list of some of the challenges that companies face when attempting to implement a vulnerability and patch management policy:

  • The maintenance of business as usual Perhaps while installing updates regularly is a good business practice, many companies find the patching process to be so time-consuming, disruptive, and costly that they choose to put it off (or even get rid of it entirely) to reduce the amount of operational interruption it causes.
  • The number of security flaws that must be patched This is especially true for businesses that routinely upgrade their information technology infrastructures, as this results in a growing number of vulnerabilities that need to be patched. Between the years 2019 and 2020, there was a 40 percent increase in the number of vulnerabilities that were detected and reported. Our numbers take into account the contributions of more than 3,500 independent researchers who take part in our Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) program.
  • There is little to no visibility The procedures for updating need to be more difficult when dealing with increasingly large internet infrastructures.
  • Systems incapable of being patched Even if the systems and applications in question are still required to carry out activities that are vital to the operation of the organization, patches may no longer be supplied to them once they have reached the end of their life cycle or support. 

Tools for making virtual patches

Utilizing any one of a variety of tools is required to complete virtual patching. For example, intermediary devices such as web application firewalls (WAF), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), web server plugins like ModSecurity, and application layer filters like ESAPI WAF. Other examples include:

When selecting the appropriate instrument, one must take into consideration the following characteristics:

  • The device needs to make use of an HTML and HTTP parser, one that can comprehend particular protocol elements such as content type, XML payload, and many more.
  • The tool needs to be able to segment the HTTP stream into headers, parameters, and uploaded files, and it should be able to carry out an individual analysis on each component to determine its content, length, and count.
  • It should be able to accurately match requests and replies to maintain a keep-alive HTTP connection.
  • The tool must have anti-evasion capabilities, which may include data sanitization and character encoding among other methods.
  • Signatures shouldn’t be the only thing the tool relies on though. It is required to offer the functionality to construct robust rules that involve complicated logic to define the tests.

Conclusion

When compared to typical patching cycles, virtual patches offer several advantages. It only takes a few minutes or hours to implement a virtual patch, and the associated costs are modest. The practice of virtual patching ought to be regarded as an essential element of the patch management strategy used by every organization. In addition to safeguarding against emerging dangers, it also offers efficient protection against a variety of different eventualities, as was just mentioned. 

This strategy allows for improved protection of business-critical applications and data by utilizing a virtual patch, which can swiftly close the window of opportunity and, as a result, reduce the risk to the company by blocking the path to exploitation. 

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