A Step-by-step Guide to Implementing a Patch Management Process

Desirée Jaimovich July 21, 2022
- 9 min read

A proper patch management process is crucial as it helps prevent data breaches by fixing security vulnerabilities and bugs. It is also the way to make sure all devices run the latest software versions, which implies having access to updated functions and characteristics.

Just so we are all on the same page, patch management consists of acquiring, testing, distributing, and installing updates or software patches. It is an essential part of IT Asset Management, and it requires following patch management best practices and selecting a top patch management software to ensure this task is done effectively and efficiently. 

In this article, we will analyze the goals of patch management and delve into the instructions needed to implement this process. Get ready to explore the patch management process, which goes way beyond patch deployment.

What are the goals of a patch management process?

The objective of patch management is to keep operating systems in a network updated and, therefore, keep them as secure as possible against malware and other vulnerabilities that may result in data losses and significant risks. An effective patch management process requires attaining the following goals.

1. Reduce interruptions and rollbacks

Planning is crucial to avoid interruptions and rollbacks when deploying updates. A good patch management process implies, among other things, scheduling the updates when the devices are not in use so that the workflow is not interrupted and there are no rollbacks.

2. Create predictability and routine around patching 

The patch management process should follow a predictable plan. Routine and prediction are the key elements in the process. Devices and software should be categorized to periodically receive their corresponding patches, with the main aim of preserving information security.

3. Empower IT with emergency powers (rollback and distribution) when needed

Automation is crucial to perform patching effectively, but if, for whatever reason, the automated patch management software fails, then the IT department should be able to perform necessary adjustments. 

4. Ensure complete visibility into patch status

It is essential to know how and when each software and operating system has been updated and which patch version all devices have received. A historical report of applied and scheduled patches is crucial to handle this process. Besides, this data should serve to design management reports, allow the IT department to track any problem that might arise, and prove compliance with internal and external standards. 

This kind of report can be easily obtained with InvGate Insight, our asset management tool, as we show in this quick video:

Step-by-step instructions for implementing a patch management process

Organizations generally try to maintain software consistency across the different devices connected to the network and resort to centralized patch management rather than letting each computer download its updates. Information technology requires good handling of the update process to protect all the data stored and exchanged in the network.

Centralized patch management usually implies a software solution that checks missing patches, downloads, and distributes them to the related equipment according to the patch management process defined by the company. These are the necessary steps to illustrate this process:

Centralized patch management usually implies a software solution that checks missing patches, downloads, and distributes them to the related equipment according to the patch management process defined by the company.

1. Establish device group by OS and critical status

Applications and devices should be categorized according to their risk factor. How critical is that system or device to the organization? What data and processes will be affected? These questions will help determine priorities. Preserving security is crucial.

Servers or computers with confidential data should be considered a high priority and thus should receive patches first. In contrast, less relevant, offline, and rarely used devices should be deemed a low priority.  

It is crucial to have a multi-staged approach to streamline the patch management process. In this sense, the chief information security officer might also want to establish device groups based on their operating system, as this will facilitate the patching process.

2. Inventory all the software in use 

The organization should prepare a comprehensive inventory, including all the operating systems and applications. 

A complete inventory is the first step to assessing what patches have been installed and which might be missing. Knowing the current state of patching will help outline the strategy to be developed. 

The inventory can be done manually or automatically through asset management software. In this sense, InvGate Insight provides you with a quick and easy unified view of your entire assets inventory, including all the software installed in your hardware assets.

3. Delineate your patch management policy 

Once priorities have been established based on the critical status of all the devices analyzed, it is time to outline a patch management policy that will determine how and when security patches should be deployed. 

Patch management policies will specify the procedures to be carried out based on the criticality of devices, the mitigation capabilities, and the risk imposed by the type of security vulnerability identified in each case. This is part of the vulnerability management an organization should carry out.

If, for example, a server with sensitive data from clients requires patching, that should be considered a main priority if that same server needs to be updated to solve two security issues: the patch that mitigates the most dangerous security vulnerability should be deployed first. 

4. Monitor patch updates

When patches have been deployed, the IT department should monitor if they have been installed correctly and that everything is working well. Patch management tools are great for automating this process to do it more efficiently. 

Monitoring also implies making sure the policies are being applied correctly. In this sense, the IT staff should evaluate if there is a new patch to be deployed and ensure that the programmed updates, whether daily, weekly or monthly, are being carried out as planned. 

5. Test patches before implementation

Best practices require the testing of patches before implementing them because there is a possibility that a patch might cause problems in the systems. Therefore, it is recommended that patches are implemented in a test environment before the actual deployment takes place. 

In the haste to solve a security issue, software companies sometimes release buggy patches that introduce problems into environments that are working fine. So, it is always advisable to perform some tests so that the IT team can confirm the patch solves the vulnerability it was designed to address and that it doesn't crash the system or does not introduce any new inconvenience in the network. 

6. Create a production backup 

After completing the testing in the lab environment, best practice indicates that creating a full backup of all data and configurations set up within the environment, including customizations made to the existing software, is necessary. 

7. Download and deploy patches 

Once all the previous steps have been completed, it is time to download and deploy patches in a timely manner. Remember, skipping any of the previously mentioned steps is not advisable. 

Following a scheme and clear policies is the best way to ensure all the software is updated correctly and that no bugs are introduced into the systems, with all the problems that might imply for the organization. 

A patch manager will help ease this process. These solutions include a Windows patch management tool built to automate patches to servers and workstations and other devices to patch different software, such as Linux, macOS, Unix, and other custom software and applications. 

8. Document and categorize new patch releases

Once all new patches are downloaded, record and categorize which patches were employed so that information is considered for future reference. This information should be included within security policies and procedures. 

It is imperative to document the state of the systems before and after patches have been applied. This will make it easier to handle any future situation that might arise. For example, it will be easier to pinpoint if a problem can be attributed to a buggy patch or missing patch.

Bear in mind that the patch management policy should cover critical and non-critical updates and establish regularly scheduled maintenance periods.

Implement a patch management process with InvGate Insight.

Key takeaways

The objective of patch management is to keep systems in a network updated and secure against various malware and vulnerabilities that might significantly impact the organization's performance. It is also essential to receive the latest software features installed on all devices. 

A good patch management process seeks to: 

  1. Reduce interruptions and rollbacks.
  2. Create predictability and routine around patching.
  3. Empower IT with emergency powers (rollback and distribution) when needed. 
  4. Ensure complete visibility into patch status. 

To attain those goals, it is necessary to outline a thorough patch management process following these 4 significant steps, which encompass other substeps:

  1. Gather information and make an inventory. 
  2. Monitor and test patches to detect elements that could damage or introduce new vulnerabilities into the system. 
  3. Download patches and document everything.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common problems with patch management?

One of the most common patch management difficulties is the lack of visibility into the patches deployed and on what devices. Another problem is that the patch may fail, which opens the system to vulnerabilities and attacks. Manual patching is another common obstacle because it is time-consuming and can lead to errors. Finally, there's the problem of lack of mobile control. It is crucial that organizations implement updates on mobile devices to keep the corporate data secure.

What are the six steps in the patch management process?

  1. Establishing an asset inventory to know the devices, software, and operating system running in the network. 
  2. Monitoring the patches available and required. 
  3. Using the asset inventory to determine which assets should apply which updates. 
  4. Reviewing and approving the patch management process.
  5. Testing software patches in a lab environment before they are deployed.
  6. Documenting the systems before and after the patching process. 

What are the three types of patch management?

The 3 most common types of patches are: 

  • Security patches
  • Bug fixes
  • Feature updates

The first one involves patching newly discovered security holes in the system, whereas bug-fixing patches are meant to solve system errors and improve efficiency. Performance patches can enhance overall performance by lowering resource requirements, making apps run faster, or getting new functionalities. 

What are patch management procedures? 

Patch management procedures involve identifying, acquiring, testing, and installing patches or making code changes to solve security vulnerabilities, fix bugs, or add features to a network's software or operating systems.

Read other articles like this : Patch Management

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