Protecting your company’s infrastructure against cyberattacks is top priority. But due to the time demands and budget constraints in most IT departments, patch management often gets overlooked. With ransomware attacks increasing, the need for a well-defined patch management process is more critical than ever.
What Is Patch Management?
A proper patch management process defines how and when you acquire, test and apply new patches to your software and systems.
Due to aggressive development deadlines, many software errors are caught only after product release. Rather than create major updates, software “patches” are constantly being rolled out to fix errors, enhance usability and performance and repair security vulnerabilities.
Since there have been over 12,000 instances of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) in 2019 alone, creating a patch management process is vital. Unless you have a good system in place, the likelihood of staying on top of necessary fixes is slim.
Why Is Patch Management Important?
Patches might seem like a nuisance, worthy of ignoring or putting on the back burner. But missing one or more important patches threatens the stability of your entire IT environment and could affect basic features users depend on.
In addition to providing functionality enhancements, patches serve another important role: to make sure your software is protected from hackers.
Ransomware attacks continue to pose a threat, especially to small and mid-size businesses that lack the resources to defend against them. System vulnerabilities are well known to experienced hackers, so exploiting unpatched weaknesses is the easiest way for them to break into your system and do damage that is difficult and costly to fix.
7 Steps to a Proper Patch Management Process
Your patch management process should include the following steps:
1. Inventory all company software in use
2. Define and enforce your patch management policies
3. Monitor patch updates
4. Test patches before implementation
5. Create a production backup
6. Securely download and deploy patches
7. Document and categorize new patch releases
1. Inventory All Company Software in Use
The first step in a proper patch management system is to list all software the organization uses.
While Windows can automatically update itself, Adobe, Chrome, Java and a host of other programs might not have this ability or be configured to do it. This creates multiple attack vectors into your endpoints. Your policy should address third-party apps, and the software you use should be able to patch them.
2. Define and Enforce Your Patch Management Policies
Knowing you have to patch isn’t enough. You also need to know what you’re patching and what patches you are applying. Assembling a policy document that details your patching procedure is time-consuming but necessary.
Your patch management policy should include both critical and non-critical updates, as well as regularly scheduled maintenance. Assess the security threat of each system or software, and assign priority levels based on that threat level.
Once you have a policy in place, you need to enforce it. Your IT team can enforce the policy through manual remediation processes or enlist the help of managed IT support specialists.
3. Monitor Patch Updates
With so many patches (and so little time), you’ll want to have a system that identifies only the patches you need. Wading through hundreds or thousands of patches is not only inefficient but increases the likelihood that an important patch will be missed.
4. Test Patches Before Implementation
Testing a patch before implementation helps guarantee that the patch is working the way it should before it is deployed. This saves time by not having to unwind a patch that is not performing correctly. Creating a lab environment that replicates your production environment enables you to employ the applications you will use to test your patches.
5. Create a Production Backup
As a last step before patch installation, make a full backup copy of your production environment. The backup should include all data and any customizations made to existing software.
6. Securely Download and Deploy Patches
Once testing and backups are complete, download the patch in a timely manner, verifying that recommended steps have been performed per your established policies.
7. Document and Categorize New Patch Releases
Once new patches are downloaded, be sure to document and categorize which patches were employed for future reference and communication to appropriate staff.
Proper Patch Management Saves Time And Money
When resources are scarce, it’s easy to ignore seemingly tedious jobs. But when it comes to protecting your software and especially your data, no task is too small. Installing patches is critical to maintaining security and smooth system functioning.
By designing and implementing a proper patch management strategy, you are saving your company time and money in the form of proactive security and maintenance.
Outsourcing patch management to a managed services provider is a cost-effective strategy. MSPs already have the processes in place to make sure something as small as a patch never compromises your network.
SugarShot offers proactive managed services for LA-area businesses that includes patch management. Want to learn how patch management services can save you time and improve security? Contact us today.