Updating and patching are key parts of any security policy, whether you are a small business, a large business, or an individual. Patches resolve issues ranging from major to minor and ensure that you are using the latest version of the software available.
Discover why patch and update management is so important, then explore the best practices for patches. There is one overarching theme when creating policies: Never put off patches unless it is unavoidable.
What Are Patches
For those who need a quick refresher, patches are bits of code that you apply to a program following installation. Program developers create patches to correct bugs and problems discovered following the release of the software. The term “patch management” is frequently used to refer to the policies in place regarding patches and managing them. Patch management encompasses finding patches, testing them, and installing them to ensure the computer system is up to date.
Why Patches Matter
To better understand the various best practices related to patches, you must first understand why patches are important and the role they play in your network’s security. From a security standpoint, patches resolve any security issues that the developer has discovered since the last patch. As such, if you ignore a patch, your system will have some sort of vulnerability that cybercriminals could take advantage of. With the patch in place, however, you have all the latest updates for security.
Not all patches are related to security. They can also improve the overall functioning of software, its ease of use, its speed, or something else. However, even those patches can indirectly help your network security since if your software functions correctly and efficiently, employees are less likely to take shortcuts that put your system at risk.
The Best Practices of Patch Management
The Golden Rule: Never Delay Patch Application
The golden rule for patches is to never delay applying the patch. Once it becomes available, it should be applied as soon as possible. There are numerous examples of cybercriminals exploiting the fact that not everyone applies patches right away. Remember that if a patch fixes a security issue, it is likely that a hacker is already aware of that vulnerability and actively works to use it.
If they were not aware, the presence of the patch would confirm it for them, even letting the cybercriminals know where the vulnerability lies. Many cybercriminals will actually try to target businesses via the vulnerability resolved in a recent patch based on the assumption that not everyone will update immediately.
Inventory Your Network
You do not want to accidentally miss managing patches for any device that connects to your network, software, or anything else, so you should ensure you maintain an inventory of all the production systems that you use. This inventory should include the type and version of the operating system, the physical location, the IP address, the function, and the custodian. Update this list periodically to ensure it is still accurate. Remember that you cannot patch systems if you do not know what you have in place.
One of the caveats to the above rule of always installing patches as soon as possible arises in situations when there are multiple patches to apply and they cannot be installed simultaneously. In this case, you will need to prioritize the order of the patches based on the vulnerability of the system, the importance of the patch, the severity of the threat, and the cost associated with recovery or mitigation if an attack occurs due to the delayed patch.
You do not want to have to make these decisions in the moment since that will take up time that could be spent starting the patch. Instead, once you have your inventory of the network’s systems, order the list in terms of patch priority based on the factors that are not dependent on the patch in question, such as how crucial the system is and how much you use it. Then, if multiple patches become available at the same time, you can confirm the patch importance lines up with your prioritization list and then start the patches within minutes.
Always Test Patches First
While you should not delay applying a patch by much, you do need to wait before installing a new patch across your system to confirm that it is compatible with everything you use. This is done via testing a patch; otherwise, an application that your business relies on may suddenly become unusable. To avoid this type of problem, have your IT team or whoever handles patch management assess any patches within a test environment and only apply them to the system once they have passed the test.
Automated or Manual Patch Management
Your patch policy can focus on either manual or automated patch management, depending on your specific business needs. Typically, a manual management strategy will only be feasible for smaller businesses since having a greater variety of endpoints increases the difficulty. Most experts suggest you either opt for an automated patch management system, hire a managed service provider to take care of patches for you, or have a dedicated member on your team in charge of this task.
Consider Push Updates
Most users get easily frustrated with push updates, the type of software update that takes place whether you want it to without the option of delaying it beyond 15 minutes or a half-hour. However, these are actually incredibly useful because they ensure that no one delays a patch and leaves your system open. Consider making push updates part of your patch policy, particularly for system-critical units. This does not need to be an all-or-nothing approach. You could apply push updates for just some types of patches or only the patches for certain software. You could also include a way to get around the push update. However, ensure that only the IT department or an administrator has the ability to do that. This way, you will not have to delay that important video conference because of an inopportune update.
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