By Michael Cowley on October 31, 2019

Patch management vs Vulnerability management: What's the difference?

Managed Security Services

There are a lot of terms and acronyms in cyber security. With so many phrases sounding so familiar, it’s easy to get caught up talking about one thing while thinking about another.

It’s a problem that happens with patch management and vulnerability management. Because they both have similar qualities, they’re often confused as being the same thing. But that line of thinking can potentially put a company at risk of becoming a victim of a cyber-attack.

Companies need patch management; they also need vulnerability management. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and we’ll break down why that is.

What is patch management and why do you need it?       

Patch management is the systematic management of sourcing, testing, reviewing and implementing patches to systems and software on the enterprise network. With many patches being issued partly as security fixes, the goal is to maintain security by eliminating known vulnerabilities.

The methodology is an ongoing strategy that often incorporates solutions which can automate the process. There are thousands of patches issued for thousands of products every month and the larger the company is, the more patches there will be to oversee. Failing to continuously patch leaves a business susceptible to easily preventable attacks.

Without patch management, enterprises are effectively making themselves the ‘low hanging fruit’ in an attacker's eye; leaving themselves open to the thousands of exploitable vulnerabilities that are discovered throughout the year. Not only that, but patches can sometimes offer new features and software optimisations that make the product more useful and valuable for the end user. Patch management isn’t just an element of cyber security, but a benefit for the entire organisation.

What is vulnerability management and why do you need it?

Vulnerability management is the ongoing process of discovering, investigating and mitigating against vulnerabilities on the enterprise network across software and various devices. It’s a continuous strategy which aims to keep the company ahead of threats, by first understanding the company’s cyber exposure and then putting in place appropriate mitigations through actionable insight.

At times, vulnerability management may involve system patching, but other important aspects include a robust process for recording and tracking risk, helping to maintain and demonstrate compliance with regulations and frameworks, as well as keeping a company secure from a data breach, by highlighting cyber security priorities to business leaders.

By continuously scanning, assessing and tracking assets on a company’s network, to continually map a company’s vulnerability and attack surface, organisations can drastically improve their overall security. Greater oversight of the network, when combined with quick investigation and mitigation, will reduce the number of doorways that hackers are potentially able to use to access sensitive data and exploit company resources.

What are the benefits of patch management and vulnerability management?

Patch management is a critical component of any well-run business in that it ensures the software and devices being used every day are up to par feature-wise and security-wise. Not only that, but consistently patching can keep a company protected from common exploits that are used to target unpatched systems.

Vulnerability management on the other hand has a ton of benefits to its name, including:

  • It feeds the full life-cycle management of vulnerabilities and gives a business greater visibility of legacy vulnerabilities that they may not have been aware of.
  • It provides analysts with real-time analysis on vulnerabilities within the enterprise, which can lead to actionable insights and changes at the ground-level that truly impact the security of a business.
  • It supports compliance with a wide range of regulations and industry cyber security frameworks.

Interested in learning more about vulnerability management? Get in contact with us or your account manager today.