Eight Steps to Better Security with Patch Management Automation

How do you make a hacker happy? Make sure your systems aren’t patched with the latest fixes. Verizon’s 2015 Data Breach Report revealed that 99.9% of vulnerability exploits happen more than a year after the specific vulnerability was reported. In fact, 97% of the attacks in 2014 were from a list of ten published vulnerabilities – and there were patches available to fix those vulnerabilities. Better patch management could have significantly lowered that number. Patch management is critical for IT managers in all industries, but let’s use the healthcare industry as an example.

Security Breaches Are Costly

In a 2015 survey, healthcare executives reported that in the last two years 81% of their healthcare facilities had been compromised – and less than half felt they were properly prepared to prevent future attacks. In 2013 alone, it is estimated that breaches cost healthcare facilities $1.6 billion and affected millions of patients.

It may get worse. The 2015 Security Health Check Report, based on a survey of healthcare professionals, found that 91% of those surveyed felt hackers were targeting healthcare organizations more and more. However, less than 10% of the IT budget is spent on security and the protection of sensitive patient data. You can address the issue without overspending through better patch management processes.

Patch Management Software Seals Security Gaps

Patch management can be an extremely time consuming job. It’s no longer the once a month “Patch Tuesday” from Microsoft. The sheer number of patches for operating systems and applications can be overwhelming, making it difficult even for large IT departments to keep up. It only takes one missed patch to present vulnerabilities that expose your system to downtime, loss of data, and failure to comply with regulations. However, the process – and your life – can be simplified with the right policies and software.

Automated Patch Management is Key

By automating patch management, you can reduce – or even eliminate – complex, manual steps and points of failure. With the right solution, you determine policies on which functions are mission critical, where patches are installed for testing, and the schedule for roll-out. Automating patching can allow for:

  • Greater Security – Many patches are to fix security vulnerabilities that have been discovered. Applying them in a timely manner reduces your risk for downtime or loss of data.
  • Increases Productivity – Sometimes patches are to fix crash-causing bugs, or to improve features, which, in turn, means less downtime and increased productivity. IT managers can easily determine productivity gains by comparing how many man-hours it took manually to patch systems to how much time is saved through automation. You can eliminate the time and cost factor as a reason for not patching.
  • Maintains Compliancy – Being compliant with industry rules and regulations, in many cases, means systems must be up-to-date with patches. For our healthcare example, that means patching to meet requirements established by the Affordable Care Act and HIPPA to avoid legal penalties.
  • Being Proactive – Patches are meaningless if they aren’t applied. The proper patch management solution means you no longer have to rely on your users to leave machines on for patching, or to accept auto updates. Machines can be powered on or off remotely as needed. Status reports can be issued so you can easily monitor devices. Automation ensures that you don’t miss a critical patch, or overlook machines that need patching. It is far easier – and less costly – to prevent a breach than it is to repair after the fact.

Eight Best Practices

Automating patch updates allows you to get more done in less time, but you should still follow the eight best practices below for the most effective patch process.

  1. Inventory Existing Resources – This includes ALL devices and software within the organization, as well as mobile, and third party vendors that access systems
  2. Analyze Needs – Find out the status of the devices – which ones have patches and at what level – to determine what is necessary to bring them to the same up-to-date level.
  3. Create Database of Patches Required – The right software will help you do the analysis and build the database.
  4. Test Patches Before Roll-Out – Patches vary in quality. Sometimes patches fix one problem, only to cause other issues. Have your patch management software first install patches on test machines. While the patch is being tested, the patch management software can ready production machines for installation.
  5. Automate Delivery – Once patches are approved, your management software should download automatically to production devices.
  6. Remediation – Bring systems up-to-date with patch installation using policies you’ve put in place. Always have a plan for backing out of a patch. If it’s not possible to rollback, have processes in place for reinstalling backups with prior patches.
  7. Verification – Again, the right patch management software will automatically scan after deployment to assess vulnerabilities.
  8. Reporting – Your patch management software should report on the status after deployment. Then the software should be ready to begin these steps over again automatically when new patches arrive.

Bottom Line

Patch management can be simplified and made more efficient with the right solution. Kaseya’s IT systems management solution automatically deploys patches based on policies you create, and allows you to manage your infrastructure by yourself in less time than it would take your entire IT organization to do it manually. Don’t let your company fall prey to security breaches that could have easily been prevented – be proactive, and stay secure and compliant with automated patch software. Let your IT team use time previously spent on manual patching for finding innovative ways to meet your company’s strategic goals instead.

To learn more about automation and Kaseya Patch Management capabilities, download our Automation Cheat Sheet here:

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