A study by the Ponemon Institute revealed some startling facts. In addition to 48% of the companies surveyed reporting a data breach in the last two years, 60% of the victims agreed that they could have avoided these breaches through proper patch management. 

Patch management is crucial for a strong security posture So, let us understand how to best implement a patch management strategy that works. 

What is patch management? 

Patch management falls under the larger realm of systems management. It involves installing different patches on various systems on time. This process involves multiple steps such as

  • Knowledge of available patches
  • Deciding which patches go on which systems
  • Ensuring successful installation of all patches 
  • Testing all the patched systems
  • Documenting the process for later reference

Why is patch management important? 

Regularly updating patches is crucial. Not doing so can lead to expensive system malfunctioning and cybersecurity issues down the road. Below are a few reasons why patch management is so important:

  • Cyber threats are evolving all the time. Even the most secure systems today might not be immune to cyberattacks in the future. Patches help in quickly addressing any new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. 
  • Software glitches cause its instability, leading to unwanted downtime. More often than not, these glitches are bugs for which patches are available in the public domain. So, it is important to identify these patches and apply them ASAP. 
  • Many industry compliance standards require strict adherence to patch management policies. Non-compliance can result in heavy fines. 
  • All the guarantees and warranties provided by the developer are only valid if the system has been updated to its latest version. Not installing patches will not just void your guarantee but also your system insurance. 
  • Often, patches contain feature improvements, especially in backend processes. Not applying a patch could prevent you from enjoying these free upgrades. 

6 best practices for patch management 

1. Create separate profiles for different devices and OSs

Since various devices and platforms will require different patches, creating separate profiles for each device type will save time and effort. Doing so gives you the flexibility to reduce system downtime during patching. Also, you avoid updating all systems at the same time. 

2. Separate critical systems from the rest 

While some software needs rebooting after a patch, others do not. Roll out patches for both these sets separately. 

3. Build a system preparation policy

Often, technical issues occur during an extensive patch rollout. But what happens to the systems if this occurs? How will the users get back to normal operations? Having a system restore profile helps. Also, we recommend attaching all admin policy actions to the system restore profile, ensuring it runs before any patch rollout. 

4. Have a regular window for patches 

One of the issues with patching is the forced downtime and loss of productivity. Productivity losses can be minimized by sticking to a fixed patching cadence. Identify a time during the workweek when system usage is minimal. Roll out patches during this period. Consistency in cadence also helps keep all systems updated. 

5. Have buffer times in the rollout schedule

When you have several patch profiles at hand, it can become cumbersome to roll out all the different patches to all the groups at the same time. Moreover, any issues that might arise during the patching process can snowball and create challenges for the IT department. It is best to release the patches for different profiles with a gap of at least an hour, giving everyone the opportunity to ensure the systems are up and running again. 

6. Ensure all devices are on

Patching requires the device to be powered up and connected to the local network. If this does not happen, patching may fail. If there is a patch rollout taking place, the devices’ condition should be assessed beforehand to ensure there are no hurdles. 

Patch management plays a critical role in keeping systems, networks and data safe from cybersecurity threats. It also prevents downtime, keeps all systems running smoothly and provides access to all the latest features of the software. Lastly, with remote work becoming the new norm, a proper patch management strategy can make the difference between a massive data breach and a secured system.