Implementing software patches can be tedious. But effective patch management processes can make or break your system security. 57% of cyberattack victims report that installing available software patches could have prevented a breach.
The National Security Agency highlighted the importance of using good patch management when it found a critical security flaw in the Windows 10 and Windows Server operating systems. This flaw disguised malicious websites as safe by allowing secure certificates to be “spoofed” for web sessions. According to the NSA, implementing Microsoft’s patch was the only remedy for this critical issue.
A patch management process helps you keep track of software patches as they’re released, ensuring your applications stay up-to-date and secure. Regular patch management is one of the best ways to keep software safe from hackers while ensuring that the latest and greatest technology is being used effectively.
Today we’ll share nine 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 effective patching. Some helpful patch management policies include:
A complete inventory of all software and hardware within your organization is a vital piece of your patch management process. You will understand which patches are integral to your systems only when you know what you have to protect.
List all software, operations systems, and devices your organization uses. You may have legacy systems that should be replaced by newer technology. 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 that more patches must be deployed. Revisit and review your software needs and restrict usage to company-approved applications.
Based on the results of your inventory, multiple patches may be in overdue. To ensure efficient deployment, categorize your assets first. Then assign risk levels to each category and asset to determine which patches are the most crucial to deploy first. 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. On “Patch Tuesday” (the second Tuesday of each month), Microsoft releases large patches for Windows 10, Windows 7, Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software.
Software vendors publish updates and provide notifications to administrators via email. Many patch management software providers also maintain their own databases for a quick search of available patches.
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.
The more exposed an item is to attack, the faster you should patch it. However, if you cannot apply a patch right away, 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 considered standard procedure. This should be a full system backup that includes 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 that may arise about whether you deployed a patch appropriately.
Responsible patch management benefits cannot be overstated. But keeping up with patch management processes can be time-consuming, leading to gaps in implementation that could be risky to your business.