Patch management: what it is, benefits and best practices
When utilizing software, what the average user sees is often just the tip of the iceberg: most users do not need to delve deep into the code that makes all the features and capabilities of the software possible.
But what happens when a new feature needs to be introduced, or the code proves vulnerable to cyber attacks? That is where patch management comes in.
What is patch management?
Patch management is the process of applying updates to software, drivers, and firmware to protect against vulnerabilities, fix bugs, or occasionally implement new functionalities.
Such updates and fixes are released regularly by software vendors in an effort to keep up with the growing threat of attacks from hackers, or just to improve the efficiency of their product, and it is important to keep up with them, whether you are working on a standalone device or your computer is part of a larger network.
Patch management is only a part of a broader set of practices called vulnerability management, which is a greater umbrella term for all those actions and processes that keep your devices safe from being exploited by cyber criminals. There are even vulnerability management tools that can help improve and even automate the more time-consuming aspects of your patch management practices.
But how can an appropriate patch management policy change your workplace for the better?
The benefits of patch management
Keeping up to date with patches can be an occasional hassle, especially when implementing the update requires downtime, but on closer examination, it is easy to see that an updated machine has more benefits than downsides. Here are some of them:
- Security: the purpose of most patches is to make software safer and less susceptible to attacks, which in turn saves the time and money that would otherwise have been lost to the latest cyber threat and improves the reputation of your company.
- Efficiency: an updated machine runs more smoothly, lives longer, and is less costly to maintain, all of which are cost-cutting, productivity-boosting measures.
- Quality of life improvement: the purpose of patches goes well beyond security and sometimes involves fixing that annoying problem that had been negatively impacting your workflow, or adding a whole new feature that can make your software more powerful and efficient.
- Legal compliance: now that using technology in the workplace is the norm rather than the exception, many countries have passed laws that require companies to keep up to date with patches, especially when they deal with large amounts of sensitive data, so an inadequate patch management policy could lead to hefty fines.
This wide array of advantages is well worth a little scheduled downtime every once in a while. But what makes a good patch management policy?
The process of patch management
Implementing a good patch management policy is more complex than just downloading updates whenever they become available. Here is an example of the necessary steps to make patch management work:
- Inventory: create and update a list of all your assets, where they are (this is especially important now that working from home is on the rise), and their operating systems and version types.
- Standardise: making sure all operating systems are up to the same version type makes patching easier and more efficient. This may be harder to implement in a workplace that allows employees to use their own personal devices, but uniformity generally makes operations smoother.
- Know your security measures: Keeping track of your antivirus, firewall, and vulnerability management tools, as well as which assets are associated with them, will let you look at the bigger picture of what you are protecting and how.
- Keep up with reported vulnerabilities: one of the purposes of vulnerability management tools is to let you know about reported vulnerabilities that may affect your assets.
- Classify the risks: once you have a good idea of what vulnerabilities exist, assign a priority to them and decide whether it is more appropriate to patch them, adopt compensating behaviours (in case a patch is not yet available), or live with the risk and do nothing.
- Test: not all patches are always immediately successful. Some patches may create one problem while solving another, so it is always better to test them on a small sample before distributing them to the network at large.
- Apply the patches: after the appropriate assessment and testing, it is time to roll out the changes, though it is advisable to do so in batches rather than update the whole network simultaneously.
- Track your progress: reassess your assets after patching to make sure it was successful.
Patch management best practices
Having established the process of patch management, here are some more tips to make sure it runs smoothly:
- Establish responsibilities: it is up to the software or system provider to release patches, but it is up to IT managers to ensure they are deployed. Some businesses, however, are too small to have a dedicated department, and make that responsibility fall upon the individual users.
- Create a routine: make sure that patch deployment is on a schedule and never comes as a surprise.
- Deploy patches quickly: the longer you delay installing a patch, the higher the risk of that vulnerability being exploited.
- Have a contingency plan: be ready to roll back your assets to their previous version in case patching goes wrong.
How often should you perform patch management?
The frequency of your patch management practices depends on several factors, among which are vendor patch release schedules, and understanding those schedules is a key part of implementing patch management in a way that does not disrupt your work.
One example out of many is Patch Tuesday, the name by which the scheduled monthly release of updates to Microsoft operating systems and applications has come to be known.
Updating the inventory of your assets and their version types is also an essential part of patch management, but whether the update happens monthly, quarterly, or with whatever other frequency you see fit depends on the time and resources you have at your disposal.
Understanding how much time and effort can be spent on patch management and how to synchronize your practices with patch releases by your trusted software vendors are the key to creating a reasonable schedule.
How Acer DaaS can support your patch management
If the prospect of implementing a good patch management policy seems daunting, know that Acer DaaS can provide support in keeping your devices up to date.
With its complete hardware and software package, Acer DaaS is the ideal partner for any business owner who understands the dangers of cyber attacks and the importance of patching: updates and maintenance come with the package, thus relieving your IT department of some of the responsibilities of patch management and ensuring your systems are the best and safest they can be.
For a predictable monthly fee, you can make sure all your devices are upgraded and support is just a few clicks away in case there is trouble with the latest patch.
If you think your patch management could use some help, please consider choosing Acer DaaS as the rental model for all your workplace technology needs.