Keeping software up to date with the latest security patches is essential for businesses in a time when cyberthreats are as rampant as they are today. Patch management ensures that all your software is up to date and known vulnerabilities have been remediated.
What Is Patch Management?
Patch management is the process of distributing and applying patches to software. This includes operating systems (OS), system software, browsers and applications running on your servers, desktops and laptops. Software vendors issue patches for two primary reasons: to fix functional bugs and to remediate security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. There are several different kinds of patch releases including hotfixes, security patches and service packs.
There were more than 18,000 publicly disclosed software vulnerabilities in 2020. Vulnerabilities have different criticality ratings that you can use to prioritize patch deployments. Last year there were more than 4,300 “critical” vulnerabilities, many of which allowed “remote code execution.” These are the security bugs that generally need to be patched as soon as possible.
What Is the Purpose of Patch Management?
The objective of patch management is to maintain the functional operation of the software and uphold a good security posture. Fixing software vulnerabilities through patching reduces the “attack surface” and keeps hackers at bay. As per a Ponemon Institute report, 60 percent of breach victims said they were breached due to the exploitation of a known vulnerability where the patch was not applied.
Importance of Patch Management
Patch management is critical when it comes to securing your systems. As mentioned above, the primary purpose of patches is to fix functional bugs and security flaws in the software. Another key reason to apply patches is to help maintain regulatory compliance. Many compliance standards require regular updating of software. So, implementing patch management is necessary for companies to stay compliant with various industry regulations. Failure to stay in compliance can result in fines.
Benefits of Patch Management
Any company can benefit from patch management in the following ways:
- Improved Security – You can protect your IT environment from security breaches by patching your software regularly.
- Minimized Downtime – Ransomware and other cyberattacks can bring your business to a halt. Functional bugs can also cause system downtime.
- Reduced Compliance Fines – Avoid penalties and fines imposed by regulatory bodies by patching your systems.
The Patch Management Process
For efficient patching, organizations should have an automated process that reduces the burden on the IT team as much as possible. However, technicians will still need to review and approve or reject patches in certain cases. It is highly recommended to apply patches within 30 days of release.
Patch Management Lifecycle
The general patch management process looks like this:
- Track patch releases – Stay abreast of patch releases from vendors whose software your business uses.
- Your endpoint management solution can do this automatically.
- Scan – Your endpoint management tool scans all endpoints (servers, desktops and laptops) to see if there are any that require recently published patches.
- Acquire – Get patches from vendors
- Download patches from vendor sites when available. For example, Kaseya VSA patch management uses the Microsoft Update Catalog to get Microsoft patches.
- Test – Test the patches in a test environment before deploying them to production systems.
- Always test the patches before deploying to avoid unforeseen issues.
- Deploy – Deploy patches to your production systems based on your policies.
- Automate the process of deployment to save time and to maintain hygiene in the IT environment. Schedule patch deployments to avoid business disruption. Use blackout windows to prevent deployments during certain business hours, if necessary.
- Validate – Ensure patches work as expected and don’t break any of your systems or applications.
- Make sure of the validity and accuracy of patches. Your systems should function as required after the deployment of the patches.
- Report – Report on updated systems and fixes
- Generate reports on the various patch management tasks. Documenting patching procedures and implementations allows you to refer to the data when required.
Always be on the lookout for new patches. Missed patches can cost you dearly in the form of security breaches.
Patch Management Targets
Patch management pertains to all of your computer systems including servers, desktops and laptops. It also pertains to all types of software running on those devices, from operating systems (OS) and virtualization software to browsers and third-party applications. You will likely have different patch management policies for your servers as compared to your end-user devices.
- Third-Party Patching – Patching of third-party applications such as Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat, WinZip, and many other applications.
Patch Management Best Practices
Here are a few best practices to follow to successfully implement an efficient patching process:
- Patch from a single console – A unified patch management solution that enables centralized management of patches on all your endpoints enhances efficiency.
- Prioritize patches – Determine the order of deployment of patches based on their criticality either for security or functional reasons.
- Automate the patch management process – Decrease the time between the release and application of patches by automating the process.
- Standardize the patch process – Establish policies that standardize the patch process across your IT environment and for different categories of endpoints (e.g. servers vs workstations). You can set up policies in your endpoint management solution.
- Test your patches before deployment – Create a test environment for patches to avoid being caught off guard by unintended consequences.
Automated Patch Management
Automated patching improves your cybersecurity posture and relieves the burden on your IT team that comes with manually performing software updates. Patch management software can automate the process of endpoint scanning, patch acquisition and deployment for multiple vendors.
Kaseya VSA scans networks for installed and missing patches, detects vulnerabilities, and monitors and maintains patch compliance. It automates scheduling of patches by time, computer, group or user-defined collections of computers.
Known for its powerful OS and third-party patching capabilities, Kaseya VSA is the patch management software for all your patching needs. Keep your off-network (e.g. work from home) users’ computers as well as your on-premises computers patched and up to date. .
Learn how Kaseya VSA can protect your endpoints from vulnerabilities with efficient patching by downloading our tip sheet here.