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Guide to Agent-based Third-Party Application Patch Management for Windows

Data breaches remain a top concern for organizations of all sizes today. So many software vulnerabilities are discovered regularly, yet organizations turn a deaf ear to warnings. However, software patching is an effective way to protect organizations from data breaches. With Windows third-party patch management solutions, IT teams don’t need to spend countless hours researching, testing, and deploying patches. 

What are third-party applications?

A third-party app is an application developed by an independent vendor other than an operating system or manufacturer. For example, a Windows laptop has its own Windows Media Player, but some third-party media players offer extra features like codec support. 

Unless Windows incorporates the same advantages in its native apps, third-party apps offer advantages to the users. Commonly used third-party applications for Windows OS include Google Chrome, WinZip, Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, TeamViewer, Cisco Systems Productivity Tools, and others.

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

Third-party management is deploying patch updates to third-party applications installed on Windows endpoints, including desktops, laptops, servers, and other devices. Patches correct any security and functionality problems in apps. From a security perspective, patching mitigates any vulnerabilities that, if exploited, can compromise the app. 

Applying patches eliminates the vulnerabilities and significantly reduces the chances of exploitation. Third-party patching serves other purposes than fixing existing bugs, which improves software functionality; it can also add new features, including security capabilities.

Consequences of avoiding third-party patching?

From small to enterprise organizations, all companies use third-party applications in their daily business operations. In recent years, third-party applications have become a primary attack vector for various cybersecurity attacks. When targeting companies, bad actors access networks through unpatched vulnerabilities. As per the 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 7% of data breaches occurred due to the exploitation of software vulnerabilities. 

Challenges for IT teams to manage third-party apps

Organizations are aware that patching prevents data breaches. But inefficient patch management processes are stopping them from minimizing the risk of an attack. A report by the Ponemon Institute highlighted the risks of poor patch management. More than half of the organizations revealed that data breaches occurred because a patch was available for a known vulnerability but not applied. Any significant delay in identifying and deploying patches can open Windows endpoints to attack.

It is challenging for IT departments to keep up with software updates and available patches for Windows third-party app management. Many companies rely on third-party applications for their day-to-day business operations. IT admins have a firm grip on Patch Tuesday updates, but third-party patching can be complex. Unlike Microsoft, which sticks to a regular patch schedule, most third-party vendors do not follow a specific schedule for releasing patches. Adhering to patch management best practices will help alleviate IT and security team workloads.

Using agent-based patch management solutions

Agent-based solutions are better than agent-less ones because they reduce patch failure more efficiently. These solutions typically involve installing a small software on each endpoint responsible for identifying, downloading, and installing patches for third-party applications. 

Certain types of use cases can pose problems with agentless solutions. Remote endpoints, traveling users, and inactive Windows machines can prove problematic. Agent-based systems consist of proprietary client-side communication software that resides on the computer and facilitates communication with server-based administrative software. 

With an agent-based approach, patches can be automatically deployed to third-party applications as soon as they are available, reducing the need for manual intervention and the risk of human error.

Wrapping up

Checking for patches and testing and deploying those patches manually on Windows endpoints drains productivity. And attackers will use whatever application flaws they can find to breach an organization’s security walls. IT teams must ensure that all Windows endpoints are regularly scanned, inventoried, and updated. Implementing agent-based solutions will give IT teams complete visibility of applications installed and enforce third-party patches, significantly reducing time, effort, and complexity.