Patch Management Best Practices

Jun 29, 2021

The primary security measure to prevent cyber attacks is software patching. Many organizations know the benefits of patching, but the challenge begins when carrying out patching as a routine activity.  

With several software and operating systems, improper technique, and ever-expanding networks, many organizations struggle to patch their software as quickly as possible to secure their endpoints. A reliable set of best practices for patch management ensures a better patching technique and a lower attack surface.

Patch Management Best Practices 

  1. Maintain an Up-to-Date and Consolidated Software Inventory  

Create a database of all IT assets in your inventory. Ensure they are organized based on type, version of operating system, hardware and third-party applications. An updated inventory is essential to evaluate the true security posture of your organization. You cannot risk missing out on vulnerabilities because a software or device was not visible in your assets.

Many organizations end up using different versions of the same software. Multiple software versions complicate asset management and patching tasks. Consolidate software versions when it’s possible. Keep one newest version of the software and discard the rest. 

Monitor application usage across all endpoints. If an application is not always in use, deprovision it to keep your application up-to-date, lean and cost-efficient. A clean and accounted asset inventory makes patch discovery easier. 

  1. Stay Up-to-Date with Security Updates from Vendors 

Security researchers in vendor organizations always evaluate their software, find vulnerabilities and offer security patches to remediate the vulnerabilities. The availability of these patches is intimated to users in security update emails from the respective vendors. Subscribe to security emails from all known and reliable vendors in your application portfolio. 

The most popular security update is Microsoft Patch Tuesday. It’s a monthly routine where Microsoft releases patches for all Microsoft software products which include third-party applications and Windows. IT security experts should not miss out on any security updates from software vendors. Critical fixes may not be made available to remediate an actively exploited vulnerability. 

  1. Create a Patch Management Policy

Deploying all patches one after another in no particular order is the best way to go. Create a patch policy that is specifically designed for your IT environment. 

(a) Define a Scanning Schedule

Scan all endpoints to find out missing patches in your software. You can schedule a weekly or monthly scan based on your requirements. The time for scanning may range from 5 minutes to several hours based on your scanning tool.

The best scanning schedule is continuous scanning offered by a few advanced patching tools. Agents installed in endpoints immediately discover a missing patch and notify you. A remediation plan can be quickly rolled out if the patch is critical. 

(b) Categorize and Segregate 

Group the patches based on devices, users, OS type and applications. Once patches are grouped, planning the deployment job is easier. Patches can be tracked and verified without missing out on any devices. Identify and segregate security patches from non-security patches. 

(c) Prioritize and Deploy

Prioritize critical security patches over non-security patches. Create a patch job that includes the deployment time and reboot schedule. If needed, assign technicians to specific jobs or groups of devices for increased efficiency and faster deployment. 

  1. Prioritize Patches the Right Way

Vulnerabilities in the same severity level do not really pose the same level of risk. Severity ratings and common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS) scores offer you an idea of the risk, but it’s not the whole picture. 

Assessing the true risk of a vulnerability involves different factors which include:

  • Active exploitation of the vulnerability right now.
  • Ease of exploiting the vulnerability.
  • Number of devices reported with the vulnerability and the impact on business in case of a potential exploit.
  • Number of days the vulnerability has remained unpatched.

Available information in the public can only give you much information. Manual risk assessment takes a lot of effort and time. The smartness and accuracy of your patching tool are crucial to finding the true risk to your company’s attack surface. 

  1. Maximize the Speed of Deployment 

The speed of deployment is now more crucial than ever. With the increasing rate of disclosed vulnerabilities, there are more doors open to threats each day. Remediating vulnerabilities quickly is the most ideal way to ensure that you stay on top of vulnerabilities and secure all possible gateways to your business. 

A quicker patch deployment can be achieved by faster patch scanning, improved skills and discovery with additional automatic downloads and deployment. Faster deployment ensures there are fewer patches for you to evaluate and prioritize in each cycle. Your definition of regular patching should keep climbing up the ladder of accuracy and speed.

  1. Centralize and Automate Patch Management 

A smart decision is to centralize patch management with an all-inclusive patching tool that supports all third-party applications and operating systems. This way, data silos will be avoided and all patching tasks and risk assessment are done using a single tool.

With increasing challenges such as inadequate skills and staffing and manual risk assessment, automation may be the next logical step for your patching technique. Automation helps you to document, execute and evaluate patching as an established process in your company.

  1. Take Precautions for Patch Exempted Endpoints

Sometimes, patches may fail to deploy because of different reasons which include misconfigurations in endpoints or unavailability of vendor servers. Troubleshoot failed patches, find a way to figure out the root cause and deploy the patch. 

If the patch is not yet deployed, you need to take another measure to ensure a potential threat actor does not discover and exploit the vulnerability. Remove the app from the network and ensure it’s not open to exploits. You can:

  • Restrict user/group permissions to the app.
  • Cut off internet access to the application.
  • Whitelist the app and run only allowed executable files.

The importance of patching enterprise software is rising. More vulnerabilities and patches are revealed yearly, which further complicates patch management for IT admins. Follow these patch management best practices to have a smooth patch management process and reduce your organization’s risk exposure. 

If you need a cybersecurity tool that can help in security updates, patch management and software patching, choose Vicarius. Vicarius is a vulnerability management software that targets cybersecurity officers and operators, as well as IT managers and operators from the U.S. market. 

 

Photo by Avrielle Suleiman on Unsplash

Written by

Kent Weigle

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