What is a Critical Patch?

what is a critical patch

With new threats surfacing every few hours, it has become essential for software developers to create regular updates for their applications. In IT, we call these updates ‘patches’. Put simply, patches are software updates that correct errors or vulnerabilities. They can be accessed by the general public and usually include cumulative fixes. This ensures that the devices using said software aren’t susceptible to cyber attacks.

Patching has become the bread and butter of modern software development – so much that it can be easy to forget about. In order to facilitate updates, most operating systems provide automatic updating facilities. And it goes beyond the workplace. So-called day-one patches (fixes that come out on release date) have become commonplace in the video game industry.

But are all patches the same? And when should you apply a patch? To answer these questions, we have broken down patches into four different groups.

What are the different kinds of patches?

Generally, we can divide patches into four different categories. What sets these patches apart is the urgency with which they need to be applied. By grading both the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited and said vulnerability’s security, we can break patches into the following groups.

Low patch

This kind of patch is the only one that is not security oriented. In fact, it doesn’t address any vulnerabilities or security issues. Instead, the main aim of the low patch is to add new functions or features. Sometimes, low patches aren’t even applied automatically – leaving the software administrator to decide on whether to do it or not.

Moderate patch

Unlike low patches, moderate patches are always security oriented. However, this type of patch fixes vulnerabilities that can only be exploited locally – usually thanks to authentication requirements. Moderate patches are fairly common in organisations where multiple users share a single device – such as schools, universities or libraries. While failure to apply a moderate patch can still result in the loss of sensitive data, the chances of a breach aren’t particularly high. Still, moderate patches should be applied within 1-2 months of release.

Important patch

This kind of update fixes a vulnerability that could result in compromising an organisation’s integrity. Usually, this involves scenarios where user and customer data become publicly available on the internet. The difference with moderate patches is that, in this scenario, the vulnerabilities can be exploited over the internet. This means that not applying an important patch can lead to criminal activities such as ransomware, DoS attacks or identity theft. It is recommended practice to apply important patches within one week of release.

Critical patch

This is by far the most urgent kind of update. It is used to fix vulnerabilities that allow code execution without the need for user interaction. In plain English, critical patches are used to avoid issues that facilitate the entry of self-propagating malware such as trojan horses or network worms. Critical patches must be applied immediately, as failure to do so can easily result in a hacked system and loss of personal information. Most cyber security organisations recommend applying critical patches within three days of the developer releasing them.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the world of critical patches…

Critical patches – a brief outline

A critical patch is a software update that is considered mandatory by the vendor or software developer. Sometimes, critical patches fix bugs that completely disrupt the software’s performance. However, the critical patch’s main mission is to fix a major security issue – such as a security loophole. In cyber security, we use the word ‘loophole’ to refer to vulnerabilities in software that allow attackers to compromise the system.

Critical patches fix a specific problem. This means that, more often than not, they don’t include cumulative fixes. However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t apply a critical patch if your software is running smoothly. When it comes to cyber security, prevention is always better than cure. Even if you’re not experiencing any problems, you must apply a critical patch as soon as possible. In the rare scenario where a system cannot be patched, it might be necessary to remove it before it causes further damage.

Critical patches are more common than they might seem at first glance. For example, Microsoft regularly identifies multiple vulnerabilities and releases patches to resolve these every few months. Applications of everyday use such as Excel or Windows File Explorer can hide a number of loopholes that could potentially result in system malfunction and data loss. Similar cases include popular browsers such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Critical patch management

As we’ve seen, even the biggest IT companies in the world release critical patches regularly. This doesn’t mean that software developers aren’t doing their job as they should. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With cyber criminals devising new ways of penetrating systems through software, developers have to work harder than ever to fix vulnerabilities.

However, coming up with a new fix is only half the job. Users also have to do their bit and apply patches regularly. But this isn’t always easy to do – particularly when you’re pressed for time. So, what’s the best course of action?

Enter patch management – a controlled and automated way to update software and create an environment that protects you from known threats. When we talk about patch management, we’re effectively referring to patching on a large scale. The term refers to the process that helps acquire, test and install patches or code changes on software in order to keep computers up to date. Having a solid patch management strategy in place diminishes the risk of serious security breaches.

Know the risk, raise your shield

70% of cyber-attacks exploit known vulnerabilities – meaning that patch management is a critical part of today’s cyber security strategies. However, not all companies have the time and resources for an in-house patch management solution. If this is your case, don’t fret. At OGL IT, we offer a full patch management service that will keep all your devices updated remotely. As well as protecting your software and operating systems, we’ll make sure that your servers and routers are up to date with the latest patches.

OGL's Patch Management Services