If your business handles PII (personally identifiable information) you need to know how secure your network is. Technology is constantly advancing and this means updates are needed to keep your network secure from breaches. The patch management process, when implemented properly, will work to keep your network secure.
The process will address any vulnerabilities in the operating systems and installed software used by the business. Once identified, a “patch” will be applied to fix the weak spot. In order to effectively fix any vulnerabilities and keep your networks secure you need to understand what the patch management process entails.
In this guide, the process of patching your operating systems will be clearly explained. Along with why it’s important that you continue to manage the process.
What is the Patch Management Process?
Your company’s software needs to be updated constantly and this is usually automatic. The software company releases patches that strengthen any weak spots that hackers could potentially breach. Unfortunately, sometimes these patches never make it to the operating system. When this happens, you could be temporarily out of compliance with any number of cybersecurity regulations.
A patch is a type of code created to fix a specific problem. It is added to the existing code or “patched in”. It is usually a temporary measure to keep the software secure until an updated version can be released by developers.
Patch management can be manual or automatic. A team or specific software decides where fixes need to occur across the system. Often patches can be easily installed on the administrative computer where the changes will be reflected across all connected devices. If the vulnerable software is only installed on a few devices, the patches might need to be added to each one separately. The process also decides which patches are necessary and when they need to be installed on the operating system.
In simple terms, patch management locates, tests, and implements code changes that are necessary to keep the system secure. It also checks to see if the right patches are installed on the correct programs. Patch management also schedules when the code will be added to the various systems. It works to keep an organization’s system secure, even if the software manufacturer’s patch didn’t automatically install.
Patch management is an important part of maintaining your business’s security across all networks. It quickly identifies vulnerabilities and installs a patch. While this is vital for any organization, there are other reasons why it is important to ensure patches are up-to-date.
The Importance of Patch Management
There are six reasons why patch management is important for your business and should be included in your annual IT budget.
There can never be too much emphasis on security, especially if your business is handling information that is considered protected under federal and/or state law. One of the most common causes of a security breach is due to a missing patch. This can be avoided by proactively managing the patches that are needed to “shore up” weak spots that hackers could exploit. This can be done across all operating systems including cloud and third-party platforms.
More employers are seeing the benefits of allowing their employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work. It can improve employee productivity and save companies money – they no longer have to purchase devices for their work staff. As convenient as BYOD is, it can also be a security nightmare. Patch management will keep all employee devices secure, regardless if it’s being used in the office or out in the field.
Computers and even systems can crash if a patch is missing. When this happens productivity goes down. In some cases, it can even bring the entire organization to a halt and this can hurt a business’s bottom line. Managing patches can prevent system crashes. This keeps employees working and productivity up.
- Update Features
Bugs and vulnerabilities are not the only reasons patch management is important. A patch can also boost the system’s or software’s functionality. Patches can also come with new features or update existing ones that can help improve productivity and help the system run smoothly.
- Identify Old Software
Over time your existing software or operating system will be out-of-date and you notice that you aren’t receiving patches. This can be due to a number of reasons,
- The company is getting ready to release a new version of the software.
- The company that created the software is out of business.
- The software company has discontinued technical support.
Patch management will identify any software that needs to be replaced before it becomes a security problem.
There are cybersecurity acts in place that requires businesses and organizations that deal with personal protected data to be in compliance with listed standards. HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the GLBA (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) are two examples. Businesses that are out of compliance and/or suffered a security breach can be penalized with fines or even jail time.
Patch management is vital for your company. It prevents system crashes, keeps all devices, and software programs up-to-date allowing your business to run smoothly. Now that you understand the importance of patch management, you’re ready to start the process at your organization.
How to Set Up Patch Management
It’s not difficult to set up and start the patch management process. It can be set up to be managed by an individual or to locate and install the patches automatically. The steps you use to set up the process at your business may differ from your competitors but it needs to be tailored to fit your specific software and operating system.
- Design the patch management policy that is compatible with your system.
- The network and all connected devices must be scanned regularly to locate missing patches and vulnerabilities.
- Test the patches in a controlled setting checking for any performance or compatibility issues.
- Install the patch across all systems and devices.
- Create reports and documents detailing the downloading, testing, and installation of the patch. This might be necessary during annual audits and to show continued compliance.
As previously mentioned, it’s fairly simple to set up patch management but it can be time-consuming. RSI Security can provide businesses with a complete list of all available patches, helping to save companies time and money.
Once you have a process in place that checks for and installs patches, you’ll want to have a management policy. This basically helps an organization eliminate any potential security risks by clearly explaining what the patch management process is designed to do.
What is a Patch Management Policy
Organizations with a patch management policy are better equipped to protect their systems and software from viruses and other potential vulnerabilities. The policy clearly outlines what the process is designed to do, other than adding patches where they’re needed.
The policy should include a section for security personnel that details what must be done when a patch is missing. It should also contain current information pertaining to the system and software. This includes if a patch will be released, along with any news that might have been released online highlighting the vulnerability.
If news of the potential security problem leaked before a patch was available, hackers could already be trying to infiltrate your system. Your IT security personnel need to know what to look for before a breach occurs.
You want a clear policy on testing patches before they’re installed in the system or software. The test should check for any performance issues. For example, is the patch slowly your system down or causing other glitches. To do the test without affecting the administrator computer the organization will need to have a change management policy. Once the patch is been deemed safe and effective, it can be installed across the system.
Include all Systems and Applications
Not all applications are connected to the operating system. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t a security risk. The policy should cover the scope of the process to ensure every application is scanned during the patch management process.
Obviously the main focus of the process is to deploy patches but the policy needs to cover when this will occur. It should also limit the number of operations the team is allowed to carry out at one time. Businesses do not want their systems to be stuck uploading multiple patches for hours.
You also want the policy to include a notification sent to system users letting them know when there will be a reboot or their devices need to be available to have a patch installed.
What To Do If a Patch Isn’t Available
There will be occasions when a patch isn’t available. The policy needs to outline the protocols the security team needs to follow to prevent breaches while waiting on the patch.
Every time a patch is installed it needs to be documented. Some compliance standards require this step, along with auditors. Documenting every step you take to protect PII and prevent data breaches shows that you’re staying in compliance. If a breach does happen these records can help prevent a fine from being levied on the business.
Disaster and Recovery Plan
Sometimes testing doesn’t find all the problems a patch has. It might not be compatible and in a worst-case scenario case the system. Often a “bad” patch causes glitches or deletes files and information, the policy should have a section that outlines the correct protocols. This is especially important if the previous version of the system can’t be restored even after removing the patch.
Each business will have its own patch management policy that’s designed to work with their system. Having one in place not only clarifies patch management to your security team, but it also helps you meet compliance regulations.
Helpful Patch Management Tools
There are a few tools that can help you get started with patch management. These tools are automated, which frees up your IT security team to focus on different projects. Not all of these tools are created equal. If you decide to use an automated program there are a few aspects to look for.
- It should work across various platforms and operating systems. This includes third-party and cloud platforms.
- Be able to download the patches from the vendor’s site.
- Can scan across the network, along with different software, to identify where patches are missing.
- Tests the patch before deploying it across the system.
- Easily installs patches across all servers, desktops, laptops, and other devices.
- Provides reports on each update that includes information about installations and updates for auditing and compliance purposes.
The right automated program can keep your software and systems up-to-date with the latest patches. Just make sure that the program you are using comes with everything you need to keep your system secure.
Patch Management Simplified
Patch management is an important part of maintaining the security of your operating systems and software. If a patch is missing, you could be vulnerable to hackers. A security breach can be expensive to repair, and that’s not including any fines you might get for being out of compliance.
Whether you want to set up the patch management process or upgrade your existing policies, the experts at RSI Security are here to answer all your questions.