IT Horror Stories: How Unpatched Software Hurts Businesses

IT Horror Stories: How Unpatched Software Hurts Businesses

Leaving software unpatched is one of the most basic, unforced errors an executive can make, but companies large and small keep learning this the hard way. Keeping software up-to-date is harder than it seems, so even when execs are aware of the importance of patching, the sheer volume of needed fixes and the high error rate mean that not every company stays protected.

What is unpatched software?

Unpatched software refers to computer code with known security weaknesses.  Once the vulnerabilities come to light, software vendors write additions to the code known as “patches” to cover up the security “holes.” Running unpatched software is a risky activity because, by the time a patch emerges, the criminal underground is typically well-aware of the vulnerabilities.

Consequences of unpatched software

Leaving software unpatched and vulnerable creates some serious issues. Just take a look at a few of the data breaches that have occurred this year within some of the largest and most well-known companies.

Microsoft data breach

As one of the largest tech businesses in the world, Microsoft is often targeted with cyberattacks. In March of 2022, hackers from an international cybercrime group known as Lapsus$ breached Microsoft and compromised Bing in the process. Luckily, Microsoft was able to shut down the attack without major damages on March 22nd, just two days after it had begun on March 20th.

Toyota data breach

On October 11th of 2022, Toyota was breached and revealed the email addresses and customer control numbers of approximately 300,000 customers who used their T-Connect telematics service. Fortunately, none of the customers’ financial data was stolen, and no further personal information was taken from the database.

Samsung data breach

Samsung is a global leader in tech, making them a target for cyberattacks. In July of 2022, Samsung was breached by an unauthorized party that stole customers’ personal information, such as names, phone numbers, demographics, birth dates, product registration info, and more.

Check out this general list of consequences that unpatched software can have on your organization.

  • Security vulnerabilities: One of the most significant consequences of unpatched software is an increased risk of security vulnerabilities. When software is not up to date with the latest patches, it may contain known security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers or other malicious actors.
  • Compliance issues: Many organizations are subject to regulations that require them to maintain secure systems and software. If your software is not up to date with the latest patches, you may be in violation of these regulations, which can result in fines, penalties, and other sanctions.
  • Loss of data: Unpatched software can also result in the loss of sensitive data. If a security vulnerability is exploited, hackers may be able to access and steal confidential information, such as customer data or financial records.
  • Damage to reputation: In today's digital age, data breaches and other security incidents can have a major impact on an organization's reputation. If your organization is affected by a security incident due to unpatched software, it could damage your reputation and make it difficult to regain customers' trust.
  • Lost productivity: In addition to the potential financial and reputational costs, unpatched software can also lead to lost productivity. If a security vulnerability is exploited and your systems are compromised, it can disrupt your operations and prevent your employees from working effectively.

Overall, the consequences of unpatched software can be severe and far-reaching. It's important to implement patch management to ensure that your systems and software are always up to date and secure.

Cybersecurity & vulnerability statistics

The statistics listed below are only the most colorful recent examples of negligent patching practices, but many executives have their heads in the sand about the severity of the problem. “Small business owners tend not to focus on security because they see it as a liability and a cost center,” says AJ Singh, vice-president of product at NinjaOne.  “They don’t consider the losses from outages.”

ThoughtLab’s 2022 cybersecurity study

A 2022 cybersecurity study by ThoughtLab determined that software misconfigurations, along with poor maintenance, create the majority of security concerns. They claim, “Over the next two years, security executives expect an increase in attacks from social engineering and ransomware as nation-states and cybercriminals become more prolific. Executives anticipate that these attacks will target weak spots primarily caused by software misconfigurations (49%), human error (40%), poor maintenance (40%), and unknown assets (30%).”

Automox’s 2022 unpatched vulnerability report

Automox’s 2022 unpatched vulnerability report shows that unpatched vulnerabilities are directly responsible for 60% of all data breaches. Despite this statistic and the risks that unpatched software creates, this research shows that “A staggering majority of CIOs and CISOs even say that they delay putting security patches through to avoid interrupting business growth – and 25 percent say that they are certain their organization is not compliant with data security legislation.”

UpCity’s 2022 cybersecurity survey

UpCity’s 2022 cybersecurity survey has a plethora of cybersecurity statistics. They explain that approximately 43% of businesses feel financially prepared to take on a cyberattack, and that 2021 cyberattacks cost U.S. businesses more than 6.9 billion dollars. Also, UpCity reveals that businesses are slowly adapting to post-pandemic security measures. They note that “42% of respondents have revised their cybersecurity plan since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

High-Risk Behavior: Notable examples of unpatched software in 2022

How automated patching reduces security risks

Though reputable vendors typically offer free, automated patching for outdated software, the process can sometimes break down or cause software to malfunction. “Patching is an uphill battle,” Singh says. “There are new threats out every day.” Our internal research at NinjaOne shows that 25-30% of Windows 10 patches fail, which is why we custom-built a utility to successfully execute the process and remediate threats.

Benefits of automated patching for MSPs

Automated patching provides a multitude of benefits for busy MSPs. With automated patching, MSP managers have the option to “set it and forget it,” meaning they can issue a blanket instruction to update O.S. and third-party software across all devices.  Or they can tweak patching at a granular level, electing to manipulate settings on a per-device or per-group basis.

NinjaOne’s patch management software offers all these features and more. And you don’t have to take our word for it. An independent survey of MSP users recently rated NinjaOne as having the top software patching functionality among its competitors in the remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool space.

How to implement patch management

Before implementing patch management, ensure you have gone through these initial steps in your organization.

  • Assessing needs: Before implementing patch management, it's important to assess your organization's needs. This will help you to determine the systems and software that need to be patched, as well as the frequency and scope of the patching process.
  • Choosing a solution: There are many patch management solutions available, including both commercial and open-source options. When choosing a solution, consider factors such as ease of use, compatibility with your existing systems, and the level of support provided.
  • Getting the right people involved: Patch management is not a one-person job. It's important to involve the right people in the process, including IT staff, system administrators, and other relevant stakeholders. Training may also be necessary to ensure that everyone involved knows how to use the patch management solution and implement patches correctly.
  • Creating a policy: Patch management should be a long-term process, not just a one-time event. To ensure that patches are implemented consistently and effectively, it's important to create a patch management policy that outlines the processes, procedures, and responsibilities involved. This policy should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in your organization's systems and software.

To implement patch management, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the systems and software that need to be patched. This can include operating systems, applications, and other types of software.
  2. Create a patch management schedule. Decide how often you will check for new patches and how you will implement them. For example, you may choose to check for new patches once a week and implement them on a monthly basis.
  3. Set up a patch management process. Determine who will be responsible for implementing patches and how they will be implemented. For example, you may decide to use a patch management tool to automate the process.
  4. Monitor the patch management process. Regularly check to make sure that patches are being implemented correctly and on schedule.
  5. Test patches before implementing them. It's important to test patches in a non-production environment to make sure they don't cause any issues before implementing them in your live systems.
  6. Keep track of all patches that have been implemented. This will help you to keep track of which systems and software are up to date and which may need to be patched in the future.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your systems and software are always up to date and secure. However, some additional aspects to consider when implementing patch management in your organization are as follows:

Eliminate security threats with Portal

Ultimately, patching is both too important and too tedious for non-professionals to manage.  And frankly, it can be a headache for MSPs too. That’s why Portal offers patch management policies that takes the pain out of this essential process.

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