What is Patch Management?

Patch Management is how businesses procure, test, and install multiple patches (set of codes) in different operating systems, applications within the network to protect them from potential threats and ensure business continuity. The patches are added to the current code to temporarily keep the software secure until the vendors release the updated version. It is the responsibility of the IT administrator to build a highly configured IT infrastructure and protect it from vulnerabilities.

While terminologies such as software update and patch might appear synonymous, the difference between the two is that the former provides the software license holders with new features. The latter deploys codes to mitigate the security breaches of an organizations' IT infrastructure. Patch management is a part of the internal IT teams’ efforts to maintain business efficacy and ensure a secure IT environment.

 

Why Patch Management?

The first quarter of 2020 has seen 445 million cyberattacks so far. And, every cyberattack hints at the need to have a patch management solution in place. The severity of an unpatched system ranges from loss in productivity, delayed business projects, employee and customer data breaches to damage to the entire network of systems, which will cost the company millions of dollars. 

The 4 main reasons to add patches to your systems!

Reduces the exposure to cyberattacks
Patching airlifts a company’s data from malware and ransomware attacks by fixing security vulnerabilities and bugs. Patches prevent hackers from exploiting company details and valuable information

Decreases system downtime
Patches ensure enterprise technology performs at its best and improve employees’ productivity levels. Companies effortlessly deliver business projects with reduced system downtime.

Ensures smooth business operation
Running business operations in the VUCA world,  executives have shifted IT priorities to ensure greater security with their remote access systems. Patch management helps an organization’s IT team to work through adversity with greater agility.

Secures employees’ and customers’ data
Business data is more critical than ever before. A secure software prevents a company from losing customer and employee data and facing financial & legal backlash.

The Patch Management Process

Patch management is no simple task for any enterprise. Now with the growing complexity in IT infrastructure and the integration of multiple applications into existing systems, patch management has become a highly resource-intensive task for organizations. The patch management process varies according to the organization’s size and structure; however, the basic patch management process is the same. The IT team deploy a patch when they detect a vulnerability in the existing operating system or software. This temporarily secures the network from potential threats until the specific software developers release the updated version. Let’s take a look at the 4-stage  patch management process:

Stage 1 - Take stock of your enterprise's hardware and software

The first step is to ensure the necessary resources are in place and distributed to your employees handling the end-to-end process.
Secondly, take stock of your organizations’ software and hardware assets. You need to know what you have to understand what you need to patch. This is a critical step in any patch management process. Create a document with details of all the servers, software, applications, databases, hardware, and other equipment connected to your organizations’ network. While doing this, add details of the third-party systems and software the team ignored in the past to the document. They could also be a potential threat to your existing environment. Taking stock of the current inventory helps you locate the device and its owner, identify the vulnerable software or OS and decide the number of patches required for deployment.
 

Take stock of your enterprise's hardware & software

Stage 2 - Scan & monitor the existing network

Scanning helps you identify vulnerabilities in the existing IT network by detecting weak lines in your organizations' hardware and software. By doing this, you will be able to categorize vulnerabilities, assess severity, and decide the number of patches required for deployment. While it's essential to document your organization's assets before beginning the patching process, it is equally important to note down the systems you include and exclude from the scanning activity. Once you make a list of vulnerable devices, you must prioritize and act on the most critical one. As all the hardware and software are interconnected in your network, it's advisable to scan and monitor the entire system to see success with this process.

Scan & monitor the existing network

Stage 3 - Test the patches

An essential step is testing the patches before rolling them out. The level of testing depends on the level of vulnerability in a software or a device. It is advisable to run the test patch during non-working hours. Testing patches prevents organizations from consequences in the future and ensures uninterrupted business operations. The steps involved in testing patches are:

  • Running test cases 
  • Deploying patches in the target applications
  • Checking the performance of all the functionalities associated with the application
  • Monitoring the performance of the target system before and after the patch deployment

    There are three things to follow during the testing stage: 
     
  • Firstly, you must have a contingency plan. This to backup the data and reverse the patching process if the test runs produce negative results.
  • Secondly, although you can skip the ITIL guidelines (change management procedures) for minor patching, you must adhere to the change management principles for all significant patching processes.
  • Thirdly, you must notify your employees about the upcoming patching schedules, expected system downtime, and the purpose.
Test the patches

Stage 4 - Deploy, monitor and maintain the patches

Once you add patches to the existing system, you must verify if they comply with the security requirements. Monitoring the system regularly after the application of patches is a significant step in the patching process. You must run regular reports to monitor the success of patch deployment and the health of your enterprise network.

Deploy, monitor and maintain the patches

Types of patch management

Manual patch management

In this process, the IT admins manually deploy patches and updates in each workstation and software. The most significant advantage of manual deployment is that you can release patches during business and non-business hours. You can deal with servers, software, or devices independently and have complete control of the patching environment. On the flip side, manual deployment is a time-consuming process and leaves the IT team with little time in hand to focus on other critical projects. Additionally, manual deployment is resource-intensive and increases an organization's operational cost.

 

Automated Patch Management

Operating system and application-related updates are automatically delivered through a centralised patch management server.

Benefits

Patch Management - The Business Value

Better utilization of IT staff and resources.
Boosts the productivity of the IT department and employees by reducing downtime.

Enhanced business security
Reduces vulnerabilities and eliminates the attack surface across the organization

Better compliance 
Ensures your organization stays within the compliance of defined security standards