Develop a Patch Management Process to Protect Your Systems

 In Infrastructure Assessment

Because many breaches are the result of unpatched vulnerabilities, keeping up with patches is a vital security measure. Yet businesses often fall behind, leaving themselves vulnerable to known threats for an extended length of time.

There are several reasons businesses may fail to apply patches. These include a lack of knowledge about applications and other IT resources; unclear responsibility between operations and security teams; inability to tolerate downtime; lack of understanding of patches; and out of date applications that will no longer run if the OS is updated and patched.

Effective Patch Management

The last issue mentioned—outdated applications that will break if updates and patches are installed—can’t be fixed by the team responsible for patches. There may be solid business reasons for continuing to use that application, and they may outweigh the risks of leaving some systems unpatched.

Most other challenges associated with patch deployment can be addressed through following an effective patch management process. This process has several phases:

1. Assessment.

If you aren’t aware of a system, it will never be patched. If you don’t understand a system’s criticality and vulnerability, it may not be properly prioritized when patches are scheduled. Therefore, the first step in implementing a patch management process is to identify and understand the IT resources that are affected by patches. This includes server, storage, and network hardware, along with the operating systems and applications that run on them.

2. Define a patch management policy.

Rather than “patch when you get around to it,” devise a strategy based on the criticality of the patch and the criticality of the system to be patched. Some systems may be patched more often than others; some may be automated while others need more manual work. Know the time frame when it’s safe to bring systems down for patching. Know who is responsible for deploying patches: is it your security team or your operations team? Also know how you’ll handle emergency patches.

3. Track patch releases.

Many vendors release patches on a regular schedule; others send out sporadic notifications. Know how each vendor you work with will inform you about patches. Make sure that notification goes to more than one employee and have a process for entering patch data into a system where you can track the patch’s progress. Every patch notification should lead to an assessment of the patch’s significance so it can be handled appropriately.

4. Test patches.

Many patches should be tested in a lab before deploying to production systems in order to make sure there are no unintended side effects. Always test a backout process in case difficulties are encountered in production.

5. Deploy patches.

Roll out the patch across servers. Have a process for tracking which servers need the patch and which have received it. Use automation where possible to ensure no servers are missed and the process runs smoothly across all systems.

Deploying patches is a vital element of IT management and infrastructure support. Develop an effective process with help from Prescient Solutions. Contact us to learn how to make sure your systems are patched and protected against threats.

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