security securityOne indisputable fact about today’s software and firmware is that change is inevitable. When vulnerabilities or bugs are discovered or an upgrade is necessary because of evolving technology, a patch is released. Patch management security involves ensuring that all equipment, including applications, software, browsers, network systems and whatever is being used remotely by workers off-site receives updates and upgrades as soon as they are released. To say that security patch management is complex is an understatement. However, that underscores the importance of understanding and implementing it properly to ensure that vulnerabilities in your network are minimized.

The Security Patch Management Process Defined

To put it simply, patch management involves planning, testing and installing patches on various components of your network in a timely fashion. Staff who are put in charge of this role are also responsible for prioritizing what needs to be updated or upgraded first. The admins who are in charge, therefore, must remain abreast of new patches as they become available for specific applications and programs, prioritize patching tasks and have the knowledge to conduct testing and certification that all patches have been correctly installed. Perhaps one of the most important steps is the final one: making a log of all procedures so that they can be replicated or submitted to regulatory officials during the compliance process.

Challenges During Security Patch Management

Patch management is rarely a smooth process. In fact, any number of roadblocks can arise. For one thing, most networks are home to a wide variety of devices, including laptops, phones and printers as well as a host of different operating systems and configurations. Your organization’s IT specialist faces quite a task when juggling all of those components and requirements. Adding automated patch management software to your cybersecurity infrastructure can reduce the chance of human error or oversight that might otherwise lead to vulnerabilities due to an uninstalled patch. This software can scan for patches and install them according to your company’s customized parameters.

Time is another variable that admins must take into consideration. While it is ideal to install and apply a patch as soon as possible after its release, other priorities might take precedence. Furthermore, patch installation can require that parts of your system be taken offline, which is often not practical during a busy workday. Balancing out the timing of all of the testing and installation tasks to be found in a large organization can be daunting, to say the least.

Because patch testing can be time-consuming and costly, some businesses elect to forego it altogether, preferring instead to move directly to the implementation process. Unfortunately, this lapse can lead to instability in the environment and may even leave loopholes that criminals can exploit.

Advantages of Implementing Patch Management Best Practices

Although patch management can present challenges to your cybersecurity team, these obstacles are well worth overcoming because of the benefits to be found. For one thing, regularly installing patches markedly bolsters your company’s security posture and helps to protect your invaluable data and programs. In addition to fixing weaknesses, some patches are designed to enhance your firmware or software. Therefore, installing them can increase your company’s productivity, elevate staff morale and lead to successful outcomes.

Developing a Patch Management Plan

In order for effective patch management to take place, you will need to develop a plan. The following are some general steps for a patch management procedure that you can institute:

  • Conduct a full network assessment and inventory. That means accounting for all devices and their operating systems as well as the applications each contains and who has user privileges. Remember that this list also needs to include people who work remotely using company assets and that all elements must be operational and ready for security updates.
  • Set patch guidelines, including understanding when patches are released, the priority and time frame of what will be updated and when and when the routine schedule should be superseded by emergency updates.
  • Identify which devices have lapsed patches and which need to be updated first. Some may not be ready for the new patch and will need to be upgraded or replaced. In other instances, installing the patch might interfere with other software. The protocol should address all of these potential concerns.
  • Test the patch in a real or virtual lab environment, making sure to perform a backup in case of unintended consequences. Once your IT specialist is certain that the modification will not adversely affect other systems or software, it can be implemented in the real environment.
  • Deploy the patch on each device, informing any affected users if the update is to occur during work hours. Monitor all updates, keeping a record of all patches and versions as well as any other relevant statistics that could affect future patches.

Patch Management Best Practices

There are several steps you can take to implement your windows server patching best practices protocols. Consider writing a patch management process document to help you keep track of the various strategies:

  • Inventory your system. Start with your hardware architecture; then specify all software and their versions, firewalls, anti-virus software and other security protections.
  • Consolidate software and do your best to integrate programs. Doing so will minimize the number of applications that you need to monitor and regularly patch.
  • Automate your patch management as much as possible. Taking this step will help your efficiency by reducing the chances that you will miss an update or forget to install one on a particular machine.
  • Assign each computer and application a risk level and order for patch installation.
  • After backing up data, test patches in the environments in which they will be installed. If all goes well, install them throughout the system.
  • Protect systems that are unpatched for any reason. Restrict user permissions and, if possible, close the server to the internet until upgrades can be put in place.

This patch management process template offers a general protocol framework that can help you as you develop your upgrading procedures. Since every enterprise is unique, however, you will probably want to add your own specifications in order to keep in line with corporate goals and objectives.

Cyber attack and other data breaches are a major source of stress, financial loss and damage to both your networks and your company’s brand. Ensuring that your systems are secure and protected against both known and unknown threats is a critical task that should be at the top of your business’s IT priority list. Although patching servers may seem like a routine exercise that can be put off until another day, it is actually one of the most effective actions you can take to protect your essential assets.