Is your business practicing regular patch management? Software patching can be a tedious process, but neglecting it can put your system at risk for cyberattacks and data breaches.
Here are some startling statistics from Ponemon:
Patch management is the process of applying fixes issued by software manufacturers to address security issues that crop up after their software’s release. Keeping abreast of available patches is the best way to keep your software updated with the latest security updates and features. It also helps increase uptime and maintain regulatory compliance in some cases.
Today we’ll share ten patch management best practices and a few tips to make their implementation easy and effective.
Creating patch management policies helps establish routines, procedures and timeframes for an effective patching process. Some helpful patch management policies include:
Making a complete inventory of all software and hardware within your organization is vital to your patch management process. You will only understand which patches are integral to your systems when you know what you must protect.
List all software, operations systems, and devices your organization uses. You may have legacy systems that you should replace with newer technology. In addition, not all software automatically updates itself, and risks may be magnified if you use third-party apps.
Include security applications like antivirus and firewalls along with their versions and configurations. Update this list regularly.
Pro Tip: Consider consolidating your software applications into a company-wide user strategy. Using multiple applications for the same purpose means you must deploy more patches. Instead, revisit your needs and restrict usage to company-approved software to avoid application sprawl.
Based on the results of your inventory, multiple patches may be overdue. To ensure efficient deployment, categorize your assets first. Then assign risk levels to each category to determine which patches are the most crucial to deploy. This process helps define which systems require immediate patch deployment and which can wait.
Assigning risk levels enables you to prioritize the order of your patch deployments. Applying patches to low-level concerns first wastes time and threatens your system security.
Pro Tip: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends keeping the following updated to decrease your chances of getting caught in phishing scams:
Keeping up with vendor patch announcements is critical. For example, on “Patch Tuesday” (the second Tuesday of each month), Microsoft releases large patches for Windows 10, Windows 7, Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software. Other software vendors like Adobe and Oracle also use Patch Tuesday to release updates.
Software vendors publish updates and provide notifications to administrators via email. Many patch management software providers also maintain their own databases to search available patches quickly.
Pro Tip: Scanning through hundreds or thousands of software patches can be inefficient and time-consuming. Many businesses find that partnering with a managed services provider is the most effective way to stay on top of vendor patches.
Automating patch management is the most effective way to stay on top of current software patches. Automated patch management tools are the easiest way to ensure patches are applied quickly once they’re available.
The more exposed an item is to attack, the faster you should patch it. However, if you cannot apply a patch immediately, you may need alterations to enable the patch to work.
Mitigate risk by protecting the unpatched software or server from internet exposure. Consider limiting user access until you can deploy the patch fully.
A bad patch can break parts of your system or expose new security vulnerabilities. Testing patches before implementation helps ensure patches are operating correctly before deployment.
Pro Tip: A lab environment that replicates your real-world production environment enables you to safely test your patches, avoiding complications that could impact your business. Once small tests prove successful, full patch deployment can begin.
Creating a backup of your production environment before making significant system changes is standard procedure. You should run full system backups that include all data and alterations or customizations made to existing software.
Should your patch deployment be unsuccessful, having a backup and restoration plan will return your system to its original, unpatched state.
Once testing and backups are complete, you can start applying patches following your company’s patch management policies. Prioritize operating system patches, as allowing system vulnerabilities to remain untreated can be disastrous to your business and sensitive data.
The order in which you implement subsequent patches will follow your established business priorities and protocols.
Always categorize and document which patches you deployed, and communicate system or operational changes to staff and stakeholders. Keeping accurate records helps ease the confusion about whether you deployed a patch appropriately.
Responsible patch management benefits cannot be overstated. But keeping up with patch management best practices can be time-consuming, leading to gaps in implementation that could be risky to your business.
Why not partner with experts you can depend on? Contact Helixstorm today to learn how our managed security services help master your day-to-day IT operations, letting you and your team focus on your business.