Patch management is the process of analyzing the systems within your network for missing updates. This process shines a spotlight on the vulnerable systems within your network, allowing you to apply the necessary patches to those systems. This ensures that any vulnerabilities or bugs present in the software gets fixed.
Why is Patch Management Important?
Patch management is absolutely critical to cybersecurity and it should always be taken seriously, as it ensures that systems within your network remain operational in an efficient manner with the best security measures in place. There are several reasons why patch management is important, including a few examples I’ve indicated below:
- Security – This is the most important benefit of patch management as it ensures security flaws and bugs within the software gets fixed. For this reason, patches should always be applied as soon as possible as it will ensure the chances of attackers accessing systems through security holes are reduced, allowing you to avoid damages.
- Compliance – Applying patches is described as a basic security control outlined by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) in CIS Control 3: Continuous Vulnerability Management. Many industries are required to follow these security best practices as failure to comply could lead to potentially devastating legal penalties.
- Innovation – Patches often include new and improved features as the software vendor develops their product further. This allows you to stay up to date with the latest technology.
5 Steps to Effective Patch Management
When it comes to effective patch management, having the correct measures in place is absolutely critical. Here are five keys steps to maximize patch management effectiveness:
Step 1: Inventory - You will need to maintain a software inventory to begin with in order to understand where you currently stand and what components require an update. This process of maintaining an inventory of software assets is also a basic security control outlined in CIS Control 2: Inventory and Control of Software Assets. Using NNT’s Change Tracker Gen7 R2, you will be able to baseline your installed software which will enable you to effectively build a list of the required software patches. Please view an example of this in the screenshot below:
Step 2: Scanning - A vulnerability scanning tool will help you locate any vulnerabilities that may exist within your network. The same information about vulnerabilities discovered and patches available to remediate the issue are available to both the organizations looking to protect their systems and also the hackers who are looking to take advantage of any gaps in security. That's why organizations must run automated scans of the entire IT environment in order to stay ahead of the attackers.
By using a tool such as NNT Vulnerability Tracker, you will be able to test your network and any devices connected to it for more than 80,000 vulnerabilities automatically. These vulnerability checks will also give you information on the severity of the problem, allowing you to set priorities with a solution to remediate the issue.
In the screenshot below, you can see an example of me scanning one of my hosts using Vulnerability Tracker. The scan results indicate that my host has many vulnerabilities and flaws in place and looking at the solution provided, Microsoft offers a security patch to remediate the existing vulnerabilities and flaws on my machine:
Step 3: Testing - Every IT environment is different. A patch can impact the systems it’s applied to which may lead to application issues and system restarts or even bring down machines with certain configurations. It is always best to build test machines within your environment to identify any side-effects the patches may have on your systems before rolling them out to your production environment. Or at the very least, be sure to start with a small subset of your systems and apply the patches to them to ensure that there are no major issues, then start rolling out the patches to larger groups within the organization. This should include creating backups for rollback if needed.
Step 4: Automation - Patch management can be very time consuming if done manually, which is why many organizations fall behind in their efforts. Using tools to automate the process of checking and applying patches can help ensure that your systems are up to date while also saving you significant amounts of time compared to doing it manually, helping improve the productivity of the company in many ways.
From a security perspective, applying security patches in a timely manner significantly reduces your risk of suffering a security breach and the problems that come with it, so naturally, having an automated patch management solution in place is highly recommended by security experts globally as well as by compliance laws and regulations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, and FISMA.
Step 5: Maintaining - As malicious cybercriminals become increasingly more sophisticated, patch management too is constantly having to evolve in order to stay one step ahead of the attackers. Poor patch management will lead to an attack on your systems, so it is vital to maintain a good patch management process as it shines a spot light on any vulnerable systems within your infrastructure. Performing regular scans, system checks and tests will help bring threats to light, allowing you to patch and protect your network more efficiently.
Keep an inventory of your systems. Scan for any existing vulnerabilities. Always test your patches. Use automation to help stay secure and save resources. Maintain a good patch management process by performing regular scans, system checks and tests.
Patch management can be challenge, but by following the 5 steps above, you will be able to enforce an effective patch management strategy within your infrastructure, ensuring your systems are protected from any potential exploits.
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