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Virtual patches could ease pain of updates

Bill Goodwin
Developments in security technology could allow businesses to protect their IT networks from new vulnerabilities without going to the expense and risk of installing patches.

The next two years should see the emergence of "virtual patching" - technology that will allow companies to benefit from the protective effects of a new security patch without having to upgrade their systems.

Gerhard Eschelbeck, chief technology officer at security supplier Qualys, said work was under way to develop virtual patching, which would reduce the cost and complexity of the current patching cycle.

"There is going to be technology coming out that takes companies from standard patches to virtual patches," Eschelbeck said. Security companies are currently in the early stages of research but when the technology is deployed it will speed up the patching cycle significantly, he added.

The technology would allow organisations to effectively install a "patch firewall" in front of their IT systems. The unit would mimic the effect of a security patch, without requiring organisations to roll out the patch across their networks.

Such systems would allow IT departments to respond instantly to vulnerabilities as they emerge, rather than being left exposed until they finish a patching programme.

"Today it can take 21 days to patch external-facing devices. It takes about 60 days to patch internal systems. Using virtual patching, this could be brought down to days," said Eschelbeck.

Eschelbeck also predicted that growing demands from IT departments would lead to the development of techniques to allow organisations to measure the effectiveness of their IT security.

This would place pressure on international standards organisations to draw up standards and benchmarks that allow companies to compare the security of their networks with those of companies in the same field.

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