Why patch management is critical for your business

Katherine Little, 25 Nov 2020
Katherine Little, 25 Nov 2020

A robust patch management process is an important part of comprehensive endpoint protection — we’ll show you how to make it easier

With thousands of IT security vulnerabilities discovered every year, promptly installing the patches released by software vendors is critical. Yet despite this, 60% of data breaches occur where a patch was available but not applied.

Staying one step ahead of cybercriminals can be difficult, especially where manual processes are in place and IT resources are already stretched.

In this article, we’ll show you how to achieve a robust patch management process, freeing up IT staff to focus on higher-value initiatives and helping you - or your clients - to stay compliant with regulatory requirements.

What is patch management?

When software vendors identify vulnerabilities or bugs in their products, they release patches to fix them, often as a stop-gap measure between major releases.

Patch management is the process that companies or IT staff follow to consistently acquire, test, and install these patches to existing software and endpoints on the corporate network. If patches are not installed promptly, software and hardware may not run efficiently, and the business could be exposed to significant security risks.

Why is patch management so important?

Patch management is vital for a variety of reasons:

Maintain security

Perhaps the most obvious and compelling reason for you or your clients to adopt a good patch management process is to protect the company from cyberattacks.

When developers release a new patch, cybercriminals use it to uncover the source of the vulnerability and then work to exploit it with malware. The rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning means that they can now do this faster than ever.

The consequences of not installing a patch in time can be significant. Companies risk data breaches, reputational damage, downtime of business-critical systems, and exposure to ransomware.

Keep systems running smoothly

Developers release patches to fix bugs that may cause a system to crash or not function as expected, and to deliver feature improvements. Updates also help avoid compatibility issues with other software applications.

Ensure compliance

Governments and regulatory bodies are continuously developing regulations to protect consumers, and failure to comply could result in legal penalties and hefty fines. For example, patching vulnerable software is a critical component of HIPAA compliance.

Developing a robust patch management process

A strategic approach to patch management will ensure that your IT staff, or your clients, can use their time effectively and efficiently. Follow the steps below to create a comprehensive and robust patch management process:

  • Document. Before you begin to implement your patch management process, complete an inventory of the organization’s IT infrastructure – note all devices, software, hardware, operating systems, and third-party applications. This step will ensure that nothing is forgotten. 

  • Prioritize. Decide how you will prioritize particular users and systems based on their level of risk and priority within the business.

  • Monitor. Scan the network and devices regularly to identify any new vulnerabilities or missing patches.
  • Download and test. Stress test the downloaded patches in a non-production environment, looking for performance or incompatibility issues.

  • Rollout. If no issues are found, deploy the patches across the organization according to the policy you devised in step 2.

  • Track progress. Following the patch rollout, verify that patches were deployed successfully and that no issues have occurred.

  • Review. Frequently review your patch management process and policies for effectiveness, and make changes where necessary.

Best practices for patch management

As you develop your patch management process, or support your clients to do so, consider incorporating the following best practices:

Adopt a proactive patching strategy and prioritize critical vulnerabilities

Avoid fire fighting situations by striving to apply patches proactively. Critical updates should be installed immediately. Critical patches are developed for vulnerabilities that, if exploited, could allow code execution without user interaction, such as self-propagating malware.

Centralize and automate where possible

The speed at which cybersecurity threats evolve, combined with the risk of human error in manual processes, makes automation and centralization highly desirable. A good patch management solution will allow you to automate key stages of the patching process, from prioritizing and testing patches to scanning devices and deployment.

Develop a disaster recovery plan

If your patch management fails or causes issues, it pays to have a disaster recovery plan. The simplest and most common option is to take regular backups of your system. You may also want to consider patch rollback and how you will approach a security breach if a patch is not applied in time.

The benefits of using a patch management solution

Many companies find themselves at a disadvantage when implementing a patch management policy due to manual processes. A survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that IT security spent more time navigating manual processes than responding to vulnerabilities in 60% of organizations, leading to an insurmountable response backlog.

Automation is the key to overcoming this hurdle. A good patch management solution will automatically scan the devices on your company or client’s network, identify any vulnerabilities, and deploy patches to all endpoints. This takes the onus off IT staff to review, prioritize, and test numerous patches to ensure they’re compatible before being deployed – saving time and money.

The same survey by Ponemon Institute revealed that organizations that invest in automation benefit from reduced downtime, prompt patching, an ability to prioritize the most critical vulnerabilities, and increased efficiency and effectiveness of their IT staff.

A comprehensive patch management solution will also allow you to centralize the management of updates in a single console, enable patching of devices remotely, and support patching for a wide range of vendors.

Stay one step ahead

Avast Business Patch Management automates the patching process. It simplifies installation and configuration and uses powerful, automated discovery and deployment features to keep your business safe and compliant with industry regulations and business requirements.

Our solution provides patch support for both Windows and your most vulnerable third-party applications in one easy-to-use solution that keeps your business safe and IT free to focus on core business goals. Start a free trial today.