Patch management is the process of acquiring and applying updates to software. This is an essential part of IT Asset Management. A patch manager controls the deployment of updates to operating systems and other applications on the network.
In this article we will cover the following topics:
- Definition and importance of patch management
- Benefits of patch management
- Types of patch management
- InvGate Insight patch management capabilities
If you want to learn the key aspects of patch management and the benefits it brings along to organization, then this is the article for you.
What is patch management?
As we mentioned before, patch management consists of distributing and applying updates or software patches. These patches are codes that are inserted into a software program in order to fix a bug or a vulnerability (which is part of vulnerability management); or to provide improvements. Major tech companies regularly release patches for their operating systems and products, in order to comply with best practices.
It is the task of a patch manager to identify the patches needed and make sure the security patch, missing patch, or update is deployed. The whole patch management process can be done with the help of automated patch management software that streamlines at least part of the tasks involved.
If you were wondering how can you improve your patch management process, there are some patch management best practices to be considered:
- Both Information Security and IT teams should work together to define a risk assessment framework that defines patching policies and actions to be taken to mitigate risks. Also, it is recommended that Information Security and IT managers agree on an evaluation criteria for vulnerabilities and a method for patching priorities.
- It is also advisable that companies have special personnel devoted exclusively to deal with vulnerability and patch management activities.
- Finally, there are patch management solutions to better identify, handle, and deploy patches when necessary.
Why is patch management important?
Patch management is important for various reasons:
- Compliance — A software patch might be required to comply with demands from regulatory agencies that establish certain minimum standards of security and data protection. This is part of the best practices any company should follow.
- Security — Patch management fixes vulnerabilities and flaws on different applications or operating systems in order to protect organizations from cyber attacks. This is the difference between IT security and IT compliance. The latest software patches of iOS or Android usually include solutions to security issues previously identified.
- System uptime — This refers to the update of software in order to make sure it has all the latest elements and characteristics to work properly.
- Feature improvements — Patch management ensures that the software gets all the upgrades and enhancements embedded in the latest versions of the programs. The latest Windows update, for example, includes major enhancements that boost productivity.
How your organization can benefit from an effective patch management program
There are several ways in which an effective patch management program can benefit organizations. To name a few:
- Avoid unnecessary fines
- A more secure environment
- Happy customers
- Continued product innovation
Let's take a closer look at these benefits.
1. Avoid unnecessary fines
If your organization fails to patch in order to meet compliance standards, then you might have to pay expensive fines.
Just as an example, in 2019 British Airways faced a record USD 230 million for failing to prevent a massive data breach that exposed the personal data of 500.000 customers. This fine was issued under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
2. A more secure environment
Patching on a regular basis helps prevent risks and therefore adds a layer or protection towards potential attacks or breaches.
The ransomware WannaCry that spread all over the world in 2017 is a clear example of how it is crucial to keep all the machines and network updated. Microsoft had issued a patch to solve the vulnerability that such ransomware exploited, but only a low percentage of clients had installed it; that's why it caused such a major chaos.
If a correct patch management had been done, then the attack wouldn't have been so catastrophic. Vulnerability management, therefore, is a key aspect of patch management.
3. Happy customers
Patch management is also important to make sure the software runs smoothly. This is crucial to keep customers satisfied with the service delivered.
4. Continued product innovation
Patches not only deliver solutions to problems but also provide operating systems with the latest updates.
Microsoft Office, for example, received performance improvements, major support for document formats, within other functions. By default, installations of Microsoft Office are configured to automatically update your Office installation when new updates are made publicly available.
But this is not always the case with all types of applications and software, which is why it is important for the patch manager within the IT team to regularly check if there is a service pack — which is a collection of updates and fixes — for the operating systems or software used by the organization.
ITIL patch management
Patch management is an essential activity within any organization, and it's under Release Management within ITIL best practices.
3 main types of patches
1. Security patches
Vulnerability management is key here. A security patch is a solution that is deployed to a system, software, or application to patch or fill in the vulnerability in order to protect the system against a possible attack.
There are different kinds of vulnerabilities. One of them is the zero-day exploit, which is a security vulnerability that has not been publicly disclosed. These vulnerabilities are typically exploited by cyber criminals before the vendor has had a chance to fix them.
By the end of March, Google announced a high-risk zero-day vulnerability in Chrome, and issued an emergency security update due to the severity of exploit CVE-2022-1096. A few days later, Apple disclosed two zero-day vulnerabilities affecting their operating system on both mobile and desktop devices. The company's patch deployment for iOS and macOS was crucial.
These examples show there is an increasing number of exploits in the wild and it is worth being aware of this, to take precautions. In this context, having a thorough patch management process is very important, especially to provide endpoint security which refers to entry points of end-user devices such as desktops, laptops, and mobile devices from being exploited by malicious actors.
2. Bug fixes
A bug fix is a change that is done to a system or product in order to solve a glitch that causes the malfunctioning of the software. Bug fixes could solve crashes that could result in data loss; functional errors or missing commands that, for example, do not allow users to cancel an operation.
3. Feature updates
Feature updates are upgrades of products or services. These are ongoing improvements which add additional tools or applications to an existing software program.
For example, Windows releases patches to add new features to its operating system. Windows 11, for instance, has included new accessibility features and gestures for users; WhatsApp has recently added more options to interact with audio messages, and Apple has introduced major enhancements to the lock screen in iOS 16.
It is worth noting that the patch management process for Windows can be enabled through Windows Server Update Services, or through third-party patch management tools.
Windows Server Update Services are used by Microsoft to focus on patch management centralization, which is a good point. But while Windows Server Update Services provides additional control over updates, it might be limited in certain contexts, such as enterprises. For this reason, organization might benefit from more comprehensive automated patch management solutions.
Patch management with InvGate Insight
To improve the efficiency of reviewing, downloading, and installing patches across different devices it is important to have some sort of automated patch management software. InvGate Insight centralizes everything you need to know about physical, virtual, and cloud assets in a single platform. In this sense, it helps to better handle patch management to know exactly when and how to deploy patches.
With InvGate Insight it's easy to see which devices need updating. It offers a unified endpoint management which allows IT to manage, secure and deploy patches or corporate resources and applications on any device from a single console. This can be seen in the following video.
In a nutshell, the first step is to write the name of the software and version that need patching in the search bar. The data can be exported as CSV which can be given to an agent to make sure it repairs it or create a ticket to give it to an agent, or create a ticket to have the machines be updated.
Patch management refers to the identification and deployment of patches for the various operating systems, applications and all forms of software within the company in order to make sure everything runs smoothly, it is updated, and vulnerabilities are solved.
It's crucial to insure compliance with regulations, avoid security problems — or at least reduce or mitigate them — and to receive feature improvements.
Lastly, the best way to implement a patch management strategy is to design and follow best patching practices. In this sense, having an automated tool for patch management is essential to better handle all the tasks involved in deploying right patches for all types of software and doing it diligently, especially for enterprises.
Frequently asked questions
What are some common problems with patch management?
One major problem is lack of communication across the different teams involved in patch operations. Patch management requires cooperation from a number of different members, so effective communication and coordination is a must.
Lack of priorities could also pose a problem: it is needed to assess risks by determining possible exposure of a system and its implications.
Poor handling of assets is also another problem. Companies need to perform regular assessments of assets, and understand possible vulnerabilities and updates needed to define maintenance and patches to servers and other software.
What is the top challenge in implementing patch management?
The top challenge is probably assessing correctly the vulnerabilities and the assets exposed in order to provide a suitable and timely response for the deployment of patches across the network.
What is the recommended frequency for patch management?
Automated solutions are the best way to perform the updates as soon as they are available, which is the recommended action to take. The longer you wait to implement patches, the higher the risk, but it is true that sometimes it is not possible to deploy all patches at a time. That is why it is necessary to prioritize. In general, updates and scans should be carried out weekly and if a major risk is identified, then the patch should be installed immediately. Other patches can be carried out on a monthly basis.