Virtual patching: why healthcare IT needs digital face masks

by Toby Hart

Virtual patching: why healthcare IT needs digital face masks 

Complexity is everywhere in modern healthcare IT. It is defined by the curious blend of legacy and modern computing systems that power the NHS: from SaaS apps and cloud servers to remote working laptops and on-premises datacentres. This complexity creates security and compliance risk, particularly as all of those IT assets must be patched to protect them from cyber-threats. Doing so is easier said than done.

This is where virtual patching comes into its own. Think of the technology as a digital equivalent of the face masks providing life-saving protection to NHS staff every day. Virtual patching is low cost, non-invasive, easy-to-use and highly effective.

The problem with patching
Patching is non-negotiable for today’s NHS IT administrators. The number of newly discovered vulnerabilities continues to tick upwards, thanks to the efforts not only of the research community but a well-resourced cybercrime underground. The US CERT published 17,447 CVEs last year, the fourth year in a row that a record number had been recorded. And the AV-TEST Institute registers over 350,000 new malicious programs and potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) every single day.

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to ensure the right systems receive the right patches. As the number of IT systems exposed to the internet grows, so does the patching burden. Cloud systems, containers, software-defined networks and remote endpoints have all helped to broaden the attack surface for healthcare organisations (HCOs). And when Microsoft alone is pushing out fixes for over 100 CVEs each month, prioritising both patches and systems can be difficult. 

The process is complicated still by the need to test patches prior to deployment. Many HCOs may not be able to deploy the latest security update because:

  • They can’t take critical systems offline to test a patch
  • Upgrades may break critical legacy applications 
  • They can’t afford to upgrade a legacy operating system as it would require a major hardware refresh

If systems are left exposed, endpoint and other security tools can protect vulnerable software from some exploits. But this could create a false sense of security, as most solutions don’t have visibility into the broad sweep of unknown as well as known malware.

The value of digital face masks
This is where virtual patching can add tremendous value for NHS IT leaders. Face masks have become an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, protecting frontline staff from the virus as they battle to save lives. They’re simple to use, low cost and non-invasive—staff don’t require a surgical procedure to wear them, they just put one on when they need to. Perhaps most importantly, they’re preventative.

Virtual patching is similarly low cost, non-invasive and easy-to-deploy. It offers multi-layered intrusion prevention to protect vulnerable software and operating systems from known and unknown threats. Our capabilities tap insight into vulnerabilities provided by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative and our visibility into endpoint, server and application layers, to protect customers faster. Virtual patching works to prevent the initial infection, meaning you’re saving the organisation from the financial and operational fallout that can come from a serious security breach.

Just as face masks will help to protect us all until we can be safely vaccinated, virtual patching protects vulnerable systems indefinitely until official updates can be applied. They don’t need any:

  • Prior knowledge of the threat
  • Knowledge of the fix
  • Manual intervention
  • Invasive rebooting of your critical systems

Virtual Patching has already protected countless NHS Trusts and hundreds of thousands of other public and private sector organisations against cyber-threats, including Wannacry. To find out more, register for our sessions during the Strategy Session Rooms latest webinar.

What: Strategy Session Rooms Healthcare 
Where: Online at
When: 9 February 2021, 10am

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