All You Need To Know About Patch Management And Why Automated Patch Management Will Simplify Your Sysadmin’s Life – by ANDRA ANDRIOAIE.
What is Patch Management?
Patch management if the process of distributing and applying updates to software. These patches are frequently required to fix bugs in the software known as vulnerabilities. It entails the acquisition, review and deployment of patches to an IT infrastructure. A patch is a piece of software code that enhances a programme that has already been installed; you may think of it as a ‘bandage’ that has been applied to software. Software developers produce a patch each time a security flaw or bug is found or the program’s functionality has to be improved. Patches can be applied to your whole infrastructure, including servers, routers, IoT devices, servers, software/operating systems and more.
Why Is Patch Management Important
Regular software patches improve the functionality, stability, and security of your system. Not to mention that recent years have seen a rise in system vulnerabilities. Take a look at PrintNightmare, which targeted Windows Spooler, or the 16-year-old flaw in the print drivers for HP, Samsung, and Xerox. Plus, you must recall the infamous WannaCry ransomware attack. That occurred as a result of unpatched systems that were misused by malicious hackers. Microsoft had released a security patch that addressed the vulnerability in Windows OS two months before the ransomware attack began. However, many organisations did not upgrade their systems in time, leaving them vulnerable and open to attack.
If this is not enough to persuade you:
- in 2020 there were more than 18, 000 vulnerabilities identified.
- the Project Zero research stated that poor software patches was responsible for half of all zero-day vulnerabilities in the first 6 months of 2022
Therefore Patch Management Is Important For:
- Security: patch management fixes vulnerabilities in your software and applications that are susceptible to cyber-attacks
- System uptime: patch management ensures your software & applications are kept up to date & run smoothly
- Compliance: Cyber insurance, cyber essentials and other regulatory bodies often demand that companies maintain a certain level of compliance and patch management is a necessary piece of adhering to these standards
- Feature upgrades: patch management can go beyond software bug fixes, guaranteeing you have the most recent and efficient product with the latest features and functionality.
Benefits of Patch Management
- Reducing the attack surface: applications & software may have various vulnerabilities a hacker could exploit. By patching them, a company is less exposed to cyberattacks or security breaches. Patching works as a prevention measure against many types of malware. All of which can spread fast throughout a network.
- Enhanced functionality: as well as removing software flaws, patching can also improve features, and therefore enhance functionality.
- Achieving compliance: the required level of conformity with different regulations is accomplished with satisfactory audit results. This also saves you from receiving unnecessary fines for not meeting compliance standards.
- Increased productivity: patches can fix different errors and bugs and therefore increase system stability. This means users won’t waste unnecessary time from any system downtime, as they won’t come across system bugs or downtime every few days. Therefore, they will become more productive.
- Spotting old software: if your software vendor is out of business or has another problem, a patch management solution can help you identify the software that has not received updates in a long time. You will then have more visibility and can replace it in a timely manner.
Risks of Not Patching Your Software
- Your business is more exposed to cyberattacks – hackers can exploit any found vulnerability.
- The financial impact of a cyber attack – Successful cyber attacks can cost a company millions, from downtime & recovery, to reputation. The cost of recovery will certainly exceed the cost of implementing an automated patch management solution.
- Potential loss in productivity – you will be left behind with an outdated system. You can waste hours as you are left struggling to solve issues caused by not patching in due time.
- You can be fined because of a lack of compliance.
Cyber attacks are on the rise and you have no control over this. However, you can have total control over the vulnerabilities within your organisation and you can control them efficiently. One of the causes of the biggest cyberattacks to date has been poor patch management. Patch management plays a significant role in effective organisational cyber security.
The Patch Management Process
Here are the key steps that must be followed to ensure a seamless & effective patch management process:
- Make an IT asset inventory of all your current software solutions and devices. Check out who has what on their computers. Check out which software is out of date.
- Categorise assets and patches according to priority and risk. An inventory will assist you in determining which applications are vulnerable. It will also determine their level of importance or sense of urgency. It will also show if the existing patches meet your software needs. Since patch management is part of vulnerability management, choose a patch management solution that will fit your needs. Ensure it targets the most vulnerable parts of your system. Find a tool that will search for available patches. Then analyse the results to identify what needs to be patched. Then apply the patches and monitor the process.
- Test the patches – Before putting the patches into production, test them in a lab environment. Before deploying live, you should check if your software supports the vendor’s patches you want to use. A smart way to figure out if your network will actually support the patch you want to make is to use a testbed that replicates your production network. This step unfortunately has drawbacks as well. It will take time, consume resources from the business, and postpone the actual patching process.
- Plan the release into production and put a patch management policy in place. A patch management policy should lay out specific guidelines to ensure your patching process operates correctly. It should schedule patches to be applied on time, and the patching results should be documented appropriately.
- Deploy the patches into production. Even if your lab tests went without a hitch, there’s always a chance you could encounter issues in a production environment. When going live, it is recommended to deploy in small batches.
- Assess and document the results. You should document and analyse every patching cycle. This will help you to continually improve and optimise the patching process.
Patch Management Best Practices
Creating the optimal patch management strategy starts with evaluating all the necessary steps involved.
1. Create an asset inventory – You should keep track of your systems’ configuration and you need to know which hardware and software your organisation has. Plus check which version of operating systems are currently in use.
2. Analyse the risk levels and assign priorities – You need to undertake a risk assessment. Investigate which ones of your systems are non-compliant, vulnerable, and therefore need to be patched urgently. Some software might need patches sooner than others. You need correct identification and prioritisation in place.
Setting priorities and identifying goals for patching are crucial steps in the patch management process. It’s crucial to identify the software that has to be patched and establish a plan in order to avoid confusion and enable auditing procedures.
Patch management is part of the whole process of vulnerability management. Vulnerability management detects bugs that might be system configuration flaws, open ports, or registry settings. Vulnerability management will find the vulnerabilities before patching. Therefore, these processes should complement each other and be used together. A tool that has them both will work better in terms of mitigation measures.
Critical vulnerabilities should be patched first.
3. Consolidate software versioning – Your software and OS versions should be standardised to improve patching speed, effectiveness, and stability.
4. Create a patch management policy – A structured and well-defined process will constantly protect your system against threats. Your patch management process should be done frequently rather than occasionally. Therefore, a clear schedule must be followed when applying patches in order to prevent mistakes.
For instance, a delay should occur between deployments if various group policies require patches. You should wait a certain amount of time before installing a patch for the next policy group, so that the first policy group patches have time to take effect.
5. Do not delay important security patches -The process of patch management should not be postponed for too long or too often. Certain patches with a high security risk should always be applied as soon as possible to avoid being left open to attack.
6. Test on a small sample before wide deployment – Although software patches should be implemented in a timely manner, it’s also wise not to rush your patching, without making sure that the patches suit your system. Doing so could cause you issues. Therefore, an important patch management best practice is to test.
Patch validity can depend on the vendor. As a result, you must ensure that you test your patches on a small number of devices first to evaluate how they perform. If everything goes smoothly, you can then apply them all at once. The reason being, new patches may also have bugs that haven’t yet been found. This way you will avoid damage to the rest of your estate.
7. Have a rollback plan – You should be able to restore your software/roll back to the previous setting as soon as possible. This is to ensure that, in case of errors or conflicts, you can restore as soon as possible and reduce downtime.
8. Automate the patching process – As everyone knows, patching manually can be extremely time consuming. An automated process will always be better in terms of speed and accuracy. In addition, it will also help by avoiding human error. Not only is it a great tool to help minimise the risk of malware infections. It also frees up your sysadmins so they can focus on other security related tasks. In addition, it enables you to gain full visibility inside your IT environment so you can diligently keep track of vulnerabilities and patches.
In order to effectively manage software updates, a good automated patch management solution is essential.
Maintaining the security, integrity, and accessibility of data and systems is crucial for every organisation. It should be as thorough as possible but also simple and fast. The more you keep on top of your patching requirements and update all your systems, the less likely your company will be compromised.
Patch management is crucial to ensuring strong organisational protection. However, by all means, it should not be viewed as the answer to solving all security issues, but as an essential layer of protection for your business. For example, alongside DNS filtering, Endpoint Antivirus & Firewall, and Privileged Access Management (PAM).
It’s time to move beyond server patching software like SCCM/WSUS or old patch management techniques. Take a look at the automated patch deployment solution from Heimdal Security for your Microsoft 365 and Third Party Apps.