Maintaining robust cybersecurity, including updating security patches regularly, is paramount to safeguarding our devices and networks from potential threats in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.
A key aspect of this defense strategy involves staying vigilant and promptly applying security patches. While the term “security patch” may initially appear inconspicuous, its significance cannot be understated. Unfortunately, many users often postpone or overlook these updates, unaware of the potentially dire consequences.
In this article, we look at why it’s imperative to prioritize and install security patches. From protecting personal devices to fortifying business networks, the consequences of disregarding these updates can be far-reaching and potentially catastrophic.
What is a Security Patch?
A security patch is a software update designed to address vulnerabilities or flaws in a computer system, software application, or firmware. These vulnerabilities may expose the system to potential security breaches, unauthorized access, or malicious attacks.
Security patches are released by software developers, operating system vendors, or device manufacturers to fix these vulnerabilities and enhance the overall security of the affected software or hardware.
When security vulnerabilities are identified, developers work to create patches or updates that address these weaknesses. These patches may come in the form of code modifications, bug fixes, or configuration changes that mitigate the risk of exploitation.
Risks of Vulnerability Scanning, “Hacker’s Playground”
The proliferation of web browsers and their ability to access information and download files have inadvertently created avenues for potential hackers. Exploiting this vulnerability, they employ specialized software, either developed in-house or sourced from experienced individuals to scan for well-known vulnerabilities within browsers. These scanning tools leverage high-speed internet connections to scour systems relentlessly, searching for weaknesses.
Once identified, the IP addresses of these vulnerable systems are recorded and can be sold to others for exploitation or direct attacks on specific vulnerabilities. This software is adaptable and may be modified to detect vulnerabilities in various software, not just limited to web browsers.
Each scanning session presents an opportunity for hackers to uncover vulnerabilities that may have been absent during previous scans. Their relentless persistence underscores the necessity for more than occasional security patch updates to ensure protection.
If a vulnerability exists, hackers will strive to find and exploit it.
Breaching Network Defenses
Hackers often leverage unpatched devices to establish a foothold, commonly referred to as a toehold, in a network. By exploiting the absence of known patch updates, hackers gain initial access to a single device with the intention of infiltrating a larger network.
This technique is predominantly employed by experienced hackers targeting corporations or business networks rather than individual systems. The objective is to swiftly acquire comprehensive access to an entire organization’s data, as opposed to compromising the data of a few individuals.
Instead of directly attacking the main entry device, hackers utilize it as a stepping stone to infiltrate the interconnected systems within a network.
By exploiting the network, they can gain unauthorized access to financial accounts or sensitive information associated with the entire organization. Typically, hackers refrain from publicizing or sharing IP addresses connected to large networks since drawing attention could result in the vulnerability being patched by developers or even prompt the closure of the targeted system and potentially the entire network.
So, What Happens When You Don’t Install Security Patches Updates for Any Software on Your System
When malware infiltrates a system, its goal is often not just a quick intrusion and exit. If it can remain undetected and steal information for extended periods, it poses a greater advantage to hackers.
Failing to install security patch updates for frequently used software can lead to long-term infections. Once a vulnerability is exploited and hackers gain access, the gateway malware persists until action is taken to remove it.
Even if hackers cannot initially utilize the compromised system, they may exploit it in the future. This long-term aspect arises from the potential for exponential growth. Hackers share the IP addresses of known infected systems among themselves, forming a community where anyone with knowledge of your IP address can exploit your compromised information. They may continuously scan and access your data for as long as they desire, given the opportunity.
In the end, it takes just one person in your company network to click the “update later” button out of habit or convenience. A single compromised system can jeopardize the entire network. If your business network experiences a breach, it’s either due to a system vulnerability or an employee operating the system being vulnerable to exploitation.
Not Every System Breach Can Be Attributed to the Absence of Installed Patch Updates
Some breaches occur through zero-day attacks, where hackers exploit vulnerabilities that developers are unaware of, leaving no time for a patch update to be implemented.
It’s important to note that not all patch updates are a response to attacks carried out by malicious hackers.
While security audits and developer experts are employed to identify vulnerabilities and develop patch updates, unfortunately, a significant number of patches are engineered as a response to vulnerabilities discovered by malicious hackers.
However, security patch updates often overlook one of the most significant vulnerabilities, which lies within the computer system itself. Given the complexity and diversity of software utilized on business devices, it becomes challenging to keep track of all vulnerabilities.
There are tools available that can be implemented to help with security patch updates. One widely used tool enables network administrators to enforce the automatic installation of security patch updates on all systems within the network as soon as they are released.
Certain antivirus and malware developers have even extended their services to include the tracking and automatic installation of security patch updates. However, when considering these options for a business, note that without the tool being administered by a network administrator, individual users or employees may have the option to delay the installation of updates on their own machines.