Many companies prioritize cybersecurity efforts to protect their networks and keep their information secure from cyberattacks. Patch management is an important technique that can help IT teams update software and operating systems to correct errors and minimize security risks. If you’re an IT professional, learning more about patch management and reviewing some ways you can implement this practice effectively can help you increase your professional skills.
In this article, we define patch management, explain its importance, and list nine best practices for patch management.
What is patch management?
Patch management is the process of continually maintaining IT systems through a series of “patches,” which are updates to correct errors or address security vulnerabilities. IT professionals commonly use patches to update various areas of an IT environment, including operating systems, network equipment, and software applications. An example of a patch is a change in programming code for a piece of software. Effective patch management can help IT teams prevent cyberattacks and keep an IT environment secure.
9 best practices for patch management
Here’s a list of nine best practices for patch management to help you keep a company’s IT environment secure:
1. Create a systems inventory
Developing a comprehensive inventory of a company’s IT assets, including all the hardware and software connected to a network, can help you ensure you’re patching necessary applications and devices. Organize these assets according to the device, operating system, third-party applications, and hardware. Once you’ve created this inventory, review this information consistently, such as monthly or quarterly, to help you monitor these systems. If you notice potential vulnerabilities, you can use this inventory list to determine patches to apply.
2. Categorize risks
Look through your inventory list and categorize potential risks for each item. Assigning risk levels to different assets can help you prioritize the ones to patch first. For example, an employee laptop may be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than a server that’s only accessible from within a building. Categorizing these risks can help you quickly determine what IT assets are critical to an organization’s operations. This process can help you prioritize required patches for problems that may apply to multiple devices or systems.
3. Streamline software
Some organizations may have various software applications that perform similar functions. Other software may have multiple available versions. Streamline this software by keeping the newest version and removing duplicate applications. This practice ensures you have fewer applications to manage, which results in fewer patches to apply. It can help you improve the efficiency of your patch management system. Having fewer software options can also help organizations minimize their risks of security vulnerabilities.
4. Manage security updates
If an organization uses third-party software, such as antivirus protection software, develop a system to manage security updates from those vendors. Often, they email their customers about security announcements and recommended patches. Subscribe to receive their emails and consider setting up a dedicated folder in your inbox to filter those messages. Monitor those emails or other updates to ensure you know about new patches and can apply them when necessary.
5. Develop a patching schedule
Creating a patching schedule can help you remember to perform this practice consistently. Identify a time and day each week to apply patches. If possible, choose a time when there’s low user activity, such as in the evening or overnight. It’s also helpful to choose a time when you can check the system availability before users log back on to the system. For example, if you choose to apply patches on Wednesday evenings, you may arrive early on Thursday morning to check the system before people work for the day.
6. Test patches
When multiple systems require a patch, test the patch on a few assets first. It’s possible that patches may cause problems for some software or devices. Applying patches to a few items before deploying the fixes to a larger group can help you identify potential problems. If there aren’t any issues with the test group, begin applying the patch to other assets. These tests can help you minimize disruptions to system availability.
7. Apply patches quickly
When you learn about new patches from third-party vendors, apply them quickly. If you realize security vulnerabilities in the coding for your own applications, make the development team aware of those issues. They can help identify patches to correct those errors. Perform those patches quickly and update any software in development that the vulnerabilities could affect. Applying patches quickly can help make sure you’re protecting an organization’s IT assets from potential security risks, such as hacking.
8. Have a restoration plan
Though uncommon, patches may cause problems with some software or devices. In these instances, it’s helpful to have a restoration plan to bring those assets back to their original status before the patch begins. For example, a restore plan can remove the patch from a piece of software and restore the software to its original version. Develop a plan to restore the assets by executing a series of commands. Make sure other administrators are familiar with the plan so anyone can implement it when necessary.
9. Track progress
Once you’ve implemented a patch management system, track your progress to help you determine whether it’s helping you update assets successfully. If necessary, change your patch management plan, such as changing the day or time you apply patches. Provide training to other members of the IT team to make sure they understand the patch management process. Monitoring your progress can help you continue to protect the organization’s network security and keep IT systems operating effectively.
Why is patch management important?
Patch management can enhance the security of IT systems and improve their performance. This process can help organizations:
Increase cybersecurity. Patching can help IT teams identify and fix potential vulnerabilities in software or applications to prevent security risks, such as hacking.
Eliminate downtime. The patch management process can help teams correct errors and keep software or applications up to date, eliminating system unavailability or downtime.
Improve system functionality. Many patches can help IT teams apply feature improvements to the software, which can improve system functionality.
Comply with regulations. Due to cybersecurity risks, regulatory agencies may require organizations to implement additional security standards. Patching can help companies comply with those regulations.
I hope you find this article helpful.