Everything You Need To Know About Patch Management

Businesses in every industry depend upon a functional IT infrastructure for their day-to-day operations. From monitoring production, to managing payroll and processing customer transactions, a number of critical functions would become impossible without reliable hardware and software in place. Modern organizations are operating in an insecure digital landscape where even novice cyber-criminals have the tools to infiltrate and shut down enterprise systems.

In 2017, ransomware viruses like WannaCry and Petya exploited a leaked NSA vulnerability for Windows, to cripple computer networks across many public and private sector organizations. Although Microsoft had issued a security update to counter exploit attempts at least two months before WannaCry hit the scene, the affected organizations failed to apply these updates in a timely manner. To make matters worse, most of their systems remained unpatched for months after WannaCry, although Microsoft issued an additional security patch for out-of-support systems after the initial attack. This left the door open for other cyber-criminals to target the same vulnerability using even more sophisticated ransomware like Petya.

Patch Management is Important

Statistics from Gartner show that at least 75% of successful cyber-attacks target well-known vulnerabilities for which critical patches have already been published. This is like leaving your front door unlocked after a spate of robberies are reported in your area. Patch management helps to keep businesses secured against such threats at all times.

What is a Patch?

Software development is an iterative process. Throughout the design, development and testing of a digital product, programmers are working to identify and resolve any vulnerabilities in the coding or design of the software. However, in today’s evolving digital environment these applications are being tested against new use cases that create new compatibility concerns and security threats.

When software vendors discover these problems, they work to research and develop fixes that address the issues as quickly as possible. Patches comprise the corrected code that must be inserted in the existing software through an update. While patches create functionality issues sometimes, they are an integral part of cybersecurity.

What is Patch Management?

Even the smallest business makes use of servers, routers, printers, and a range of specialized software. With anywhere from 5000 to 6000 new software vulnerabilities emerging every year, manually checking and installing patches for each of these components would be an extremely time-intensive task. Patch management is a coordinated patch acquisition, testing, and deployment process used to keep all enterprise systems secured and up-to-date in the most efficient manner. A strong patch management policy ensures that both on-site and remote devices are updated with critical patches throughout the year.

Benefits of Patch Management

  • It protects your business against malware viruses and other exploits that are aimed at damaging your systems.

  • Patches often resolve common functionality issues such as: a lack of compatibility with certain platforms or constant stuttering and crashing. By applying these patches consistently, you can deliver real performance and productivity improvements to your workforce.

  • Patches often add new features to older applications. Patch management can keep your digital capabilities in line with current technology without added expense.

  • Antivirus software is only effective if its virus definitions are updated to reflect the latest security threats. Ignoring these updates will leave you vulnerable to the newest malware.

  • An effective patch management policy will minimize the threat of security breaches. This can save you thousands of dollars in lost sales and compliance penalties.

Features of an Effective Patch Management Policy

Assessment

You should have a comprehensive understanding of all the IT assets used in your business. If you work for a larger organization, then systems should be standardized wherever possible to facilitate this discovery process. Your research should cover everything from OS types and IP addresses to the physical locations of specific pieces of hardware. These assessments should be done regularly as your digital infrastructure expands.

Determine Security Threats

Maintain a good relationship with your software and hardware vendors. This will keep you apprised of the latest product security issues. Your information gathering efforts should incorporate: vendor newsletters, scheduled phone calls with vendor support representatives, cybersecurity publications, public websites and industry mailing lists. Based on this discovery you should develop a priority list of the most critical updates for your system.

Patch Testing

Before applying a patch, you need to make sure it won’t hamper the functionality of your systems. You should use a purpose-built test environment to confirm that the patch fixes stated vulnerabilities, and that it does not hurt any related applications or services.

Be Consistent

If you have large remote workforce, then ensure that your patch management processes are equally applicable to off-site devices. Even if your on-premises systems are fully patched and up-to-date, any of these unsecured access points could let attackers into your network.

Not every company follows a routine patching schedule. Some vendors may only release patches when highly publicized vulnerabilities come to light. Make sure you know the patching schedules for all your software, and work to apply all updates as quickly as possible.

Phase Out Unsupported Software

Once a vendor stops supporting software, it becomes vulnerable to new cybersecurity threats. With no processes in place to cover these holes, these applications become a very appealing target to hackers.

We Can Help You Automate Your Patch Management

We can streamline and optimize your patch management processes. Our solutions can scan your IT infrastructure for missing patches and inform you when updates are available. Our solutions can also deploy patches efficiently across your all networks and domains to ensure comprehensive protection at all times. Contact us today, to find out more.

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