Benefits & Best Practices of Patch Management

person at computer
Photo by Jefferson Santos

One of the fundamental building blocks of a good cybersecurity strategy is patch management. Making sure that you are getting all your necessary security patches is paramount to a secure network. 

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What is Patch Management?

Patch management is the practice of keeping software up to date through software updates. The updates, called patches, are necessary to fix software bugs and vulnerabilities. Eliminating bugs and vulnerabilities is essential to ensuring system uptime and protecting from cyberthreats and vulnerabilities. 

According to a Kaspersky report, businesses with outdated technology are more than twice as likely to suffer a data breach. 

Fixing bugs ensures that your system works as intended. Bugs are errors in software programming that cause the software to produce adverse results. This can result in error messages, improperly treated data, and many other aberrations from normal software operations. 

Fixing vulnerabilities ensures that cyber attackers can’t use your software for malicious purposes. Vulnerabilities expose your systems and data to unauthorized users. This can result in stolen data, installed malware, and in the worst cases, industrial sabotage. 

Patch management is a systematic approach to keeping your software up to date. While it is theoretically possible to make a list of all your software and routinely check each manually for updates, it’s certainly not practical for most businesses. 

Instead, businesses rely on automated patch management solutions. These solutions discover your software systems and keeps them up to date automatically. 

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Patch Management Process

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were as simple as installing a patch management software and pressing a button? Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat more complicated.  

Since patches make changes to your software systems, care must be taken when choosing to install a software patch. 

Here are some steps to take when it comes to creating your own patching plan: 

  1. Inventory all of your IT assets. This will likely be very time consuming to get started, and probably sounds daunting. However, once you have your inventory in hand, maintaining it is pretty easy. Every month or quarter, you should ensure that your inventory is up to date, adding or removing items as necessary.
  2. Streamline your IT stack. Standardizing your IT infrastructure by minimizing the variety of software and hardware that you use makes patch management simpler. When it comes to operating systems, Windows patch management is not the same as Linux. When it comes to server patch management, AWS patch management is not the same as Azure and so on. Strategically deciding on single systems saves you time which saves your organization money. 
  3. Prioritize your IT assets. Decide which assets are critical, such as your antivirus, firewall, and intrusion prevention system. Develop a patching policy with which you check these critical assets for updates and ensure that it is more frequent than the rest of your IT stack. 
  4. Itemize and classify known risks. Not every security risk requires a mitigation strategy. And it will be up to a cost benefit analysis to determine which ones to use. But secured or not, you should keep a list of security risks and measures taken to remediate them. This list should be updated regularly. 
  5. Test the patches. Because patches ultimately change how IT assets work, you should test them before applying them to your entire IT stack. Apply patches to a small sampling of your IT assets to determine whether they can withstand your operations. 
  6. Apply the patches. Once you are sure that the patches can be installed without disrupting your operations, install them as soon as possible. Cybercriminals often monitor software patches to exploit out-of-date software. 

Certainly this would be difficult to manage by hand. As previously mentioned, there are a variety of patching tools and services available to deploy patches across your network. Software like Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) can inventory your software and hardware and deploy patches across your network.  

SCCM patch management, while designed for Windows systems, can also be used with non-Windows systems if using a Windows server. 

Patch Management Best Practices

It’s easy enough to say “develop a patch management policy,” but what does that look like? Here are some best practices to help systematize your approach to security patches: 

  • Set clear expectations. Patches require someone (or something) to install them. Ensuring that your team is doing its part to keep your software updated is the first line of defense against vulnerability exploits. 
  • Implement regular scans. You should regularly scan your systems for updates. It’s best to approach scheduling on the basis of asset type, rather than assuming to just check everything. 
  • Prioritize critical assets. Things like your anti-virus, firewall, and intrusion prevention system should be updated more frequently than the rest of your IT assets, preferably at least once a day. 
  • Consult with a professional. There are a variety of options you have when it comes to cybersecurity consulting. Foresite, a leading managed security services provider, can manage your patches for you, allowing you to focus on your business operations. 

Find a Trusted Patch Management Partner

Foresite Cybersecurity has been entrusted by businesses and organizations of all sizes to keep their systems secure and updated. Our patch management solutions are ideal for keeping on-premises, hybrid, and cloud environments safe. Contact us today for more information or to receive a customized quote. 

Tristin Zeman
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Tristin Zeman is the Digital Marketing Manager at Foresite. For the past 10 years, she has helped organizations of all sizes create and scale marketing programs through digital and traditional marketing channels and efficient marketing operations.

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