Patch management best practices ensure we do patch deployment effectively and in time to prevent significant data losses, cybersecurity attacks, and other risks when the software is not updated.
Patch management is an essential part of IT Asset Management. In short, it consists of distributing and applying updates or software patches. It should be a well-established and thorough process to handle any vulnerability and other issues.
This article will discuss these best practices. We will also analyze factors that may increase patch management complexity, challenges, and how to deal with them.
A quick introduction to patch management
Patch management is acquiring, testing, and installing patches or code changes on applications and software to keep them updated and fix bugs or vulnerabilities. To sum it up, it is essential to:
- Fix flaws or bugs to strengthen cybersecurity and prevent cyber attacks and the losses this might imply (in terms of data and costs).
- Comply with demands from regulatory agencies.
- Make sure the software and operating systems work smoothly (a missing patch could break apps or systems).
- Get the latest features.
7 patch management best practices
Patch management should be a careful process and not something done randomly.
Following a thorough patching process is the best way to keep track of software updates – including security patches that solve known vulnerabilities – as soon as they are released, ensuring that all the operating systems and software installed are updated and secure.
Regular and organized patch management is the best way to ensure every update is received so that all the software is kept safe from cyberattacks and gets the latest features. It is a way of strengthening cybersecurity measures in the IT environment.
Now, let’s delve into 7 patch management best practices.
1. Make a thorough inventory of the devices, services, and dependencies creating your IT infrastructure
You should include the names and versions of all sorts of software in the organization's network, including native and third-party apps and the operating systems in use. It is also essential to include firewalls, antivirus, and other security programs installed in devices and IT infrastructure. The first step to planning a good patch management process is to know what needs to be updated and protected.
2. Be diligent
Once testing and backups are completed, the patching process should begin. The time frame will vary depending on how critical the update is and the patch management policies. As a general rule, operating system patches should be prioritized. Installing a Windows update should not be delayed.
It is worth remembering the disaster WannaCry caused in 2017. Microsoft had issued a Windows update with a patch to solve the vulnerability that such ransomware exploited, but only a low percentage of clients had installed it. That's why it brought about such significant chaos worldwide.
3. Categorize your systems
It’s important to conduct a thorough analysis to identify the infrastructure or systems at a higher risk or with the most sensitive data to establish priorities and assure patch deployment starts there. Assigning risk levels to assets helps determine which patches are the most crucial to deploy first and which can wait. A good patch management software can help carry out those tasks.
4. Deploy patches to test environments
Testing helps ensure patches work correctly before deploying them.
5. Use an automated patch management tool
An automated patch management tool is the best way to handle and manage the patching process. It can improve efficiency and accuracy regarding patch management and the corresponding patch deployment. Automated patch management can take off the burden of handling many tasks manually.
The best option here is to look for a complete ITAM tool like InvGate Insight to get real-time monitoring and visualization of the data.
6. Schedule auto-deployments twice a week
Automated patch deployment is a great way to ensure all software receives regular updates. Patching twice a week allows for proper planning, testing, and approval of patches. This way, you can provide the operating systems and apps that receive patches to protect them from any common vulnerability and more complex ones included in the security patches.
7. Report afterward
Patching should also include reports to keep management and auditors informed of the actions taken. It is important to show the security measures taken and comply with standards and other regulations.
What factors may increase patch management complexity?
Some aspects may increase the complexity involved in patch management.
- Automation: Many processes and systems have become automated, significantly benefiting organizations, and increasing efficiency, security, and overall performance. Still, at the same time, advanced automation imposes new challenges. In this context, the software used to manage all the other automated systems must be high-quality and flexible to allow a smooth patching process.
- Containers: Containers run a software process or microservice, among other things. Hence, they can be helpful as they facilitate the movement of software from one device to another, and it is possible to run multiple containers on one machine. The problem is that they increase the attack surface. Thus, it is crucial to have patches that work well in container-based systems.
- External devices: It’s increasingly common for employees to take their phones or laptops to the workplace. And though it might be tempting from a financial perspective, it brings new challenges for the IT department because those devices (often known as shadow IT) could inject malicious software into the network. Patching software should be able to deal with external devices and identify any bug or vulnerability to fix.
The bottom line
Patch management is the process of distributing and applying updates or software patches. These patches are codes inserted into a software program to fix a bug or vulnerability or to provide improvements.
It is essential to carry out a thorough and careful patching process to ensure all software updates are received as soon as they are released or within a specific time frame that varies according to the patch management policy designed and followed by the organization.
We advise specific patch management best practices. Some of these best practices include making a thorough inventory of the devices and services within the IT infrastructure, establishing priorities for the patch deployment, acting with diligence, and using a complete asset management tool such as InvGate Insight to improve efficiency.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common problems with patch management?
External devices such as mobile phones or laptops are challenging when implementing patches and updates. There should be a solution to control devices end-to-end so that all data within mobile devices can be kept safe and updated.
Another common patch management problem is the lack of knowledge about which patches have been deployed and on what devices. Using an automated tool for patch management can help solve this inconvenience.
There could be unexpected patch failures for various reasons, such as compatibility issues with existing components or the inability to perform the whole patching process. The different layers of automation could also pose another challenge. Managing the entire process is, therefore, crucial to minimizing these risks.
Which three areas should be considered regarding patch management?
The zero-ground is to have a complete and unified asset inventory to know the types of software and versions installed. Starting from here, the first area to consider in patch management is establishing priorities. With a complete inventory, any organization can determine which patches should be deployed first. The second aspect has to do with testing, deploying, and auditing. And the final step is to control the results of the whole process.
What is the top challenge in implementing patch management?
The top challenge is dealing with external mobile devices because if they are not correctly monitored and patched, they could imply cybersecurity risks for the company. Those devices might be vulnerable to attacks and inject malicious software into the organization's network.