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The Role of Patch Management in Security Strategies

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A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy is essential for success in today’s digital landscape.  While organisations can implement internal controls and keep their employees aware of security best practices, the security of the software they rely on remains a critical external factor.

Cybercriminals often breach the security measures put in place by software developers, leaving their users vulnerable to costly attacks. Developers will therefore use updates, or ‘patches’, to fill in any security gaps and fix any flaws that may put businesses like yours at risk. Ensuring that you’re keeping up to date with these patches is vital — this process is known as patch management.

In this article, we’re going to go over the ins and outs of patch management, as well as how best to implement your patch management strategy — with best practices for you to consider. Let’s go!

The Growing Complexity of Cyber Threats

As the world becomes more interconnected, cyber threats also become more advanced. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) have increased the scale and complexity of attacks. Criminals are now able to breach applications at a faster rate than ever before.

In particular, AI can find trends and new information that can be used as part of an attack or breach. On top of this, these attacks are also becoming smarter and harder to detect, meaning that any vulnerabilities in your organisation are essentially huge targets for attackers to find. Software developers are geared up for this fight, however, and will regularly release security patches and software updates to plug any gaps in their applications’ defences. That’s precisely why it’s so important to keep your software updated regularly. 

What is Patch Management?

Patch management is the name given to the process of installing vendor-issued updates to your software, to close vulnerabilities and ensure that there’s no way that the software can be used or exploited to breach the organisations that use said software.

This is vital — ensuring that you have the patches installed as soon as they become available will mean that you’ve got those vulnerabilities open for as little time as possible. However, sometimes installing patches isn’t as easy as just clicking a button and having the software update itself. Applying these updates can often be arduous or even result in temporary downtime. This means you’ll need to plan and apply patches strategically to ensure that there is minimal disruption for your organisation.

Patch management will also let you prioritise implementing vital patches as fast as possible, putting a process in place for urgent patching and letting you evaluate and prioritise patches to accommodate for time sensitivity.

Patch Management Best Practices

Create a Baseline Inventory

The first step when implementing a patch management strategy in your organisation is to take inventory and create a baseline. This will give you a solid foundation to build your patch management system on — letting you have a thorough understanding of what exists within your organisation and what needs patching.

Here’s what you need to do to create a baseline —

  • Identify all systems and devices within your network.
  • Categorise each system based on type (workstations, servers, etc.)
  • Assign unique identifiers to each device to keep track of them.
  • Document hardware specifications, software installed, and network requirements for each device.

Define a Patch Management Policy

The next step is creating a comprehensive patch management policy, to ensure that you have procedures set to make the process of deploying patches both easier and more standardised within your organisation.

The key steps you need to take for your policy are —

  • Define roles and responsibilities for patch management, including who is responsible for initiating, testing, and deploying patches.
  • Establish guidelines for patch prioritisation based on severity levels and criticality of systems.
  • Specify maintenance windows for patch deployment to minimise disruption to operations.

Categorise and Risk Assess Applications

Ensuring that you’re aware of what risks your applications might have and categorising them based on risk level, you can ensure that higher-priority patches can be deployed as soon as possible.

The best way of doing this is by risk-assessing all of your applications, to be aware of any gaps or vulnerabilities in said applications and how they could pose a risk for your organisation.

Apply Patches as Quickly as Possible

Patches are vital, and they need to be applied as soon as possible to ensure that they’re in place quickly. 

After all, leaving your business open to attacks or breaches for any length is essentially the same as leaving your door unlocked — while it may not be visibly open currently, the moment an attacker finds the breach point, they will use it.

Automate Patching

Manually having to patch your applications is time-consuming and means that you have to rely on human input to apply those patches. Automating your patches will completely mitigate this, meaning that you don’t have to worry about installing patches — they’ll be installed automatically.

For example, Windows Autopatch is a cloud-based tool for Microsoft 365 customers that automatically handles updates and maintenance of Windows, Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise, Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft Teams. 

This also makes every other step easier, as you no longer need to remember to install patches quickly — they’ll be installed as soon as they become available. However, planning is required here to ensure that patching doesn’t create large amounts of disruption for business-critical software. 

Automatic patching won’t be available for every application you use, however. We recommend reaching out to the developers of your critical software to check whether an auto-patcher is available or working with a managed service provider (MSP) to handle these updates for you. 

How We Can Help

Patch management is a key consideration for any modern business, as it ensures that you can keep track of your patches and ensure that key patches are installed as soon as they become available.

If you’re looking to get started with patch management but need assistance, reach out to our experts today. We’ll be able to ensure that you’ve got everything that you need ready to go, and our team of experts will be there along the way to give you the best start possible.

Get in touch with us now and see how we can help.