Every business should carry out regular patch management on its servers and applications. If you aren’t, you’re exposing yourself to security vulnerabilities, compatibility issues, and more.
There’s no getting around it: patch management can be a real pain. Kicking users off their PCs to run Windows Update, or working over the weekend to update your Citrix Farm, often seems like an inconvenience when your IT systems seem to be running just fine as they are. But the truth is that patch management is essential for today’s businesses. In this blog post we’ll take a look at what patch management is, why it’s important, and how you can make it as pain-free as possible.
What is Patch Management?
Software, whether it resides on servers, PCs, networking equipment, or mobile devices, will always be imperfect. From time to time, software needs updating in order to maintain or improve its functionality, performance, stability, and security.
Software vendors update their products with patches. There are three primary reasons for applying patches to software:
- To fix a bug or flaw that affects user experience
- To improve stability, leading to greater uptime
- To address a security flaw that could compromise systems
Patch management is the process of downloading, testing, and applying patches for software products. In the following section, we’ll take a look at why patch management is important.
Why is Patch Management Important?
At MMRIT, we strongly recommend carrying out patch management across your IT infrastructure. Here are some of the main reasons why:
- Staying safe from security flaws. Occasionally, software vendors uncover flaws in their products that could be exploited by cybercriminals. Once these flaws are uncovered, the software vendors release patches that address the security flaws. Patch management helps you stay safe from cybercriminals exploiting known security flaws.
- Retaining vendor support. If you’ve ever taken your iPhone to the Apple Store with an issue, you’ll know that the first thing they ask is “have you upgraded to the latest iOS?” Most software vendors are the same. Patch management helps ensure that vendors will support you in the event of an issue.
- Maintaining application functionality. Many applications that run on your servers or PCs require the latest operating system software versions in order to function. Patch management allows you to install and run the latest applications as they are released by software vendors.
- Preventing the spread of malware inside your network. When a user clicks on a malicious link in a phishing email, a malware payload is often downloaded which exploits software vulnerabilities to infect large parts of your network. Patch management removes these vulnerabilities, preventing viruses from spreading throughout your network.
Patch management is an essential element of your overall IT security strategy. Software vendor maintenance contracts can sometimes feel like a costly and unnecessary expense, especially when it feels like you haven’t logged a support call in some time. But the truth is that without maintenance contracts, you lose access to patch updates that can save your business from potentially crippling security breaches.
Patch Management Best Practices
So you know what patch management is, and why it’s important. But how do you go about implementing patch management at your business? Here are some best practices that you should consider:
- Create an inventory of systems. In order to reap the rewards of patch management, you need to ensure that you have a comprehensive inventory of your systems in place. Miss a device in your patch management schedule, and you run the risk of suffering the type of security breach that patch management is meant to prevent.
- Carry out a standardisation exercise. Having all of your related systems running on the same software version will make patch management a lot easier. If you’re looking to implement patch management, consider taking this as an opportunity to standardise your software and getting your systems running in tandem.
- Establish your security controls. Establishing your security controls will help you respond to emergency patch releases appropriately. If a software vendor issues a patch that addresses an issue you know will be adequately addressed by your firewall, you may have more time than you initially thought to roll the new patch out.
- Agree a regular patching schedule. Patch management becomes a lot easier for IT administrators and for users when a regular patching schedule is established. Microsoft release security patches on the second Tuesday of each month, and many business’ patching schedules follow their lead.
- Think carefully about being an early adopter. It may be tempting to apply patches as soon as they are released by the software vendor. At MMRIT, we tend to advise waiting a short period before applying patches, as initial releases can sometimes come with their own bugs and flaws. Let the early adopters discover these, and give the software vendor time to address them before you apply the patches yourself.
Implement Patch Management
At MMRIT, we implement and maintain patch management schedules for a number of businesses looking to improve their functionality, performance, stability, and security. Contact us to find out how we can help your business.