Patch Management Explained. What It Is, Best Practices and Benefits
All You Need to Know about Patch Management. And Why Automated Patch Management Will Simplify Your Sysadmins’ Life.
Patch management is a process that involves the acquisition, review, and deployment of patches on an organization’s systems. Simply put, patch management distributes and applies updates to your software whenever a vulnerability is detected. A patch is a piece of software code that improves an installed program – you can literally think about it as a “bandage” applied to software. Every time a security flaw is discovered or the program’s functionality needs to be enhanced, software developers create a patch to address these aspects. The need to completely redesign the program is therefore out of the question. Patches can be deployed to your entire infrastructure including software/operating systems, routers, IoT equipment, servers, and more.
Why Is Patch Management Important
System vulnerabilities have gained ground recently. Look at PrintNightmare that targeted Windows Spooler or the 16 years old vulnerability present in HP, Samsung, and Xerox print drivers. Or do you remember the notorious WannaCry ransomware attack? Well, it happened due to unpatched systems that ended up being exploited by malicious hackers. Even though Microsoft had released a security patch that addressed the vulnerability in Windows OS two months before the ransomware attack began, many individuals and organizations alike did not update their systems in time and thus remained exposed. Or, if this does not convince you, look at the statistics that say that in 2020 there were more than 18, 000 vulnerabilities identified.
Here are the benefits of using patch management
- The attack surface is reduced: applications and software might have different vulnerabilities a hacker could exploit. By patching them an organization is less exposed to cyberattacks or security breaches because the company will remediate bugs before them getting known to threat actors. Patch management also adjusts features, not only software flaws, as security experts’ released patches often might mean enhanced functionality that once deployed will improve the system. This way operating systems, cloud applications, or third-party ones are well guarded.
- You achieve compliance by managing patches because the required level of conformity with different regulations is accomplished and also the audit results will be satisfactory.
- Productivity at its best: it helps applications be updated, this means that they will always keep up with what’s making them work better. This will help your employees too as they do not have to come across system bugs or downtime every 2 days, so they will be productive and not waste unnecessary time.
- An automated patch management solution will be always better in terms of accuracy, as human error might stand behind the failure that emerges when doing it manually.
- It works as a prevention measure against many types of malware that can spread fast throughout a network.
- Patch management will spot old software: if your software vendor is out of business or has another problem, this solution will help you identify the software that does not receive patches anymore so you can replace it in a timely manner.
Here are the risks of not using patch management
Out of the benefits of patch management, we can draw the conclusion that the risks of not using it could be:
- Your business is exposed to cyberattacks because hackers would easily exploit any found vulnerability.
- The financial impact of a successful cyber attack can be devastating. The loss in productivity and the cost of recovery will certainly exceed the cost of implementing an automated patch management solution.
- Meanwhile, your competition will move forward and you will be left behind with an outdated system and struggling to solve issues caused by not patching in due time.
- Your image loses trustworthiness.
- You can be fined because of a lack of compliance.
You can’t control the emergence of cyber threats. But you can have complete control over your organization’s vulnerabilities and efficiently manage them. Bad patch management has been one of the reasons behind the largest cyber-attacks to date. Patch management plays a significant role in ensuring strong organizational protection.
The Patch Management Process
The patching process has some steps that need to be followed if you want to have a smooth and efficient patch management process. Among them, we can mention:
First thing is to make an inventory of all your current software solutions. You should determine if your software supports the vendor’s patches you want to use, before choosing a tool to manage the entire process. An inventory asset will help you define if the existing patches meet your software needs and determine which applications are vulnerable and their level of importance or sense of urgency. A testbed that imitates your production network is a good solution to determine if your network will really support the patch you want to apply. This part comes with disadvantages too, because it will take time and make use of the organization’s resources and will delay the patching process itself.
Then choose a patch management tool that will fit your needs and target the most vulnerable parts of your system, as patch management is part of vulnerability management – a topic that goes hand in hand when talking about patching. This tool will scan for available patches, then it will analyze the results and determine what needs patches, it will apply the patches and eventually monitor the process.
Implementing a patch management policy is a very important step. A patch management policy will set clear rules to make sure your patching process runs the right way, schedule patches to be applied on time, and document patching results properly.
However, the patching process should be automatic for better accuracy and to avoid wasting time unnecessarily. That is why a patch management tool is recommended. Besides, a patch needs to be applied as soon as possible to avoid exposure to cyberattacks. For instance, through Heimdal™ ‘s patch management software, the newly released patches are ready for deployment to customers in less than 4 hours. The tool will do it in your place and make sure the system is patched every time it is needed.
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Patch Management Best Practices
Creating the optimal patch management strategy starts with evaluating all the necessary steps involved. Here are the best patch management practices for you to implement today.
1. Automation is the key
Although the patching process can be done either manually or automatically, an automatic solution will always be better in terms of saving time, avoiding human error, and also sysadmins will not have to constantly take the time to apply patches where and when needed so they can focus their attention on other security-related tasks.
With an automated patch management process in place, not only will you avoid the risk of malware and network errors, but you will also gain full visibility inside your IT environment and diligently keep track of vulnerabilities and patches – and the entire process will be fully automated. This means you can schedule the exact time that you want the updates to be installed and benefit from silent software and patches installation, on the fly, without any user interruption.
An automation tool will perform a quick asset inventory and let you know what software you have on which endpoint, the number of installs and versions so you can start managing the patch process more efficiently.
2. Analyze the impact to know which patches should be applied first
This involves a risk assessment analysis. You need to investigate which ones of your systems are non-compliant, vulnerable, and thus need patches. Some software might need patches sooner than others. It won’t help if correct identification and prioritization are not put in place. Patching the wrong system won’t take you too far.
Identifying patching goals sets priorities and identifies objectives that are essential during the patch management process. It’s important to determine what software needs to be patched and set up a schedule to eliminate any confusion and allow for auditing practices.
In addition, here, it is worth noting that not all your software will match every released patch because they are coordinated with the operating system. Critical software should be patched separately from the other and making out different profiles will allow patching in a row, not at the same time, since not every patch fits all the software.
3. Be consistent
As the saying goes: perseverance is the mother of success. Usually, patches are released one time per month. However, a clear and organized routine will constantly keep your system away from threats. The patch management process should be a constant and ceaseless one, not just from time to time. So, applying patches requires a well-defined schedule in order to avoid errors.
An automated tool will help you schedule your patches and define an efficient patching routine. The rollout should be set up paying attention to some factors: if the system is available and what’s the level of user’s activity. So, a particular day and time should be set that would not interfere with what users have to do. Or if you have a tool that can deploy patches with zero user interruption, this would be great. This is the proper timing for a rollout and the rest will be handled by your tool.
4. Organize the deployment timetable
For instance, if different group policies need patches, there should be a pause between deployments. A time interval should be considered before installing the patch in the next policy group in order for the first policy group to have time to implement them. And if you schedule the installation, make sure all your networks and devices are switched on before giving green light to the tool that will handle the installation even when you’re not in the office.
5. Patch, but in a timely manner
The process of patch management should not be postponed too much. So once released, patches have to be applied.
The patching implementation urgency and also what needs to be patched within your organization can be simply identified by evaluating the system configuration and also the patch rating. However, this leads us to the next best practice.
6. On schedule patches, but tested first
If I said earlier that patches should be implemented in a timely manner, rushing without making sure that those patches suit your system will do no good. The testing part is an important patch management best practice.
Patch validity depends on the vendor himself, therefore what you can really do is to make sure you test your patches on some machines first and see if they work. If everything runs well, then you can apply them overall. New patch versions can have yet undetected bugs.
This way you will avoid damage to certain machine configurations.
7. Keep pace with the vendor’s changes
For a business to run smoothly, this needs different software, and building them from scratch yourself could not be possible, that is why third-party vendors that sell software are preferred. These vendors analyze their software periodically for vulnerabilities and release patches for software improvement scopes. But it’s up to you to be aware of their updates in order to include the new patch to the scheduled routine in your tool.
For example, Microsoft has a dedicated day for patch release. It’s called Patch Tuesday. We have a dedicated section for this on our blog that helps you be well-informed on the topic.
8. Use patch management alongside vulnerability management
The patch management process is part of the whole process named vulnerability management. The latter one identifies bugs that might be system configuration flaws, open ports, or registry settings for instance. Before patching, vulnerability management will detect the vulnerabilities. That is why these processes should work in synergy and go hand in hand. Or a tool that has them both will work better in terms of mitigation measures.
9. Be aware of the results
After all patch management best practices were properly implemented, you want to know if they worked, if your patching routine makes you walk on the right path. This is called the auditing part. A complete analysis that will provide you with metrics will tell you if the patch management has success and where it improved the system.
Automated patch management will simplify everything because this tool will identify vulnerable endpoints and systems, it will automatically download patches once released, the patches are installed according to the established patch management policy, so the program knows to generate compliance, then it runs reports to know what has been done.
10. Define a recovery plan in case of failure
If your patch management results fail to meet expectations, then a recovery plan should be taken into consideration. In order to avoid data loss, a backup is always the best solution. If ransomware for example will infect your system, the IT guys can remove it and retrieve data from the cloud storage that supports your backup plan.
With HeimdalTM Security’s patch management software, you can achieve compliance, mitigate exploits, close vulnerabilities, deploy updates, and install software anywhere in the world, and according to any schedule. Our tool covers both Windows and 3rd party application management and comes with customizable set-and-forget settings for automatic deployment of software and updates.
Not only that, but we also provide you with fully tested, repackaged, and ad-free updates using encrypted packages inside HTTPS transfers locally to your endpoints.
By efficiently managing vulnerabilities, you will demonstrate a high ROI within a short timeframe by gaining the ability to become resistant to vulnerabilities and gain a brand new and improved cybersecurity posture.
Heimdal™ Patch & Asset Management
- Schedule updates at your convenience;
- See any software assets in inventory;
- Global deployment and LAN P2P;
- And much more than we can fit in here...
Good patch management is a crucial aspect when it comes to maintaining the security, integrity, and accessibility of the data and systems of every organization and the process should be as thorough as possible. The more you keep up with your patching and update all your critical (and non-critical) systems, the less likely it is that your company will be compromised.
Patch management plays a significant role in ensuring strong organizational protection. However, by all means, it should not be viewed as the answer to solving all security issues, but as an essential layer of protection for your business, alongside DNS filtering, Endpoint Antivirus & Firewall, and Privileged Access Management (PAM).
Move beyond server patching software like SCCM/WSUS and antiquated patch management techniques and discover our unique patch deployment solution. Clean up your patch management process and contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org!