Patch Management Survival Guide

Jun 25, 2021

If the computer code fails to patch vulnerabilities, it can lead to loss of data that can cost more than what your organization can pay for. Below is a patch management survival guide that, if followed closely, will reduce the risk of data breach and other cyber crimes. 

It is essential to know that all these steps are important. Not all are always utilized or they can be utilized in various ways depending on what the client wants. You have to determine what your patch management plan will look like to suit what you want. 

Recommended Best Practices for Patching Your Software

  1. All the software you are using must be identified. Today's IT systems present a thought-provoking situation because all systems run dozens of different software titles. You have to know what you have before you can know what you need to patch. You have server applications, desktop applications and operating systems. 
  2. Patching servers, PCs and mobile devices is also essential.
  3. Also, you need to be strategic when patching many of your hardware-based appliances, like SANs, routers, firewalls and much more.
  4. Fix a regular time every month to patch your systems. You can do it effectively over a weekend in one big event where all systems are patched or you can choose to do 20 percent of them in the course of the month to mitigate impacts from unexpected patching issues. There are other various steps you can take. You need to make a decision on which one is good for your business.
  5. When dealing with more than one server, recognize if you have dependencies that need a certain server reboot in order for everything to function well on restart. For instance, it is a good way to bring down a multi-tier system by starting with the presentation tier which is the webserver, then the application tier, and lastly, the database tier. Your system should be brought up in reversed order.
  6. Study the release notes to gain more understanding about the implications of deploying a set of patches. The software user forums should also be reassessed to know if anyone is having any issues with the new patches.
  7. It is safe to apply patches in a timely manner, but if there is an imminent danger, do not be in a hurry to deploy the patches until you see the result it is having in similar software user communities. A good rule of thumb is to implement patches 30 days from their release. 
  8. The patches should be tested out in a test environment before implementing them into your production system. This can be hard and costly for most organizations, since it demands buying a lot of additional software and hardware to build the test environment.

    There are other options if you don't have a budget to do this. There are other organizations that provide patching services and one of the jobs they do is testing those patches before deployment to production systems. 
  1. When testing the patches in the test environment, check if the computers require a reboot or if they do so automatically. If so, then you need to make an arrangement for a maintenance window in which to apply the patches to the production system, so that you don't experience unexpected system reboots that will damage the database or hurt your business operations. Expect more than 90% of your patch deployments to require reboots. 
  2. After applying the patches, use a smoke testing procedure to make sure all services and applications are back online and working perfectly when PCs and servers restart.
  3. Change management is very crucial but not always noted. Other stakeholders need to be involved in the company before any change can be affected. They will often let you know of the system or organizational demands that will have an effect on your patch deployment task. 
  4. For your end-user community to know what to expect, inform them about your planned time frame for patch deployment. When patching workstations, notify the users early and remind them to save all documents, close all applications and log out of their workstation, but do not shut down the PC. Relate to them what they should do if they experience any problem after the patch deployment.
  5. It is advisable to have a good roll-back plan which allows you to rapidly reverse the patches and go back to the pre-patched system if there is an important issue with the deployment. Good procedures and patching tools will allow for a roll-back of patches.
  6. If possible, take a snapshot of your server before your patch deployment and also have a good backup of all your systems.
  7. If there are any auto-scheduled maintenance jobs running to do maintenance, such as a SQL database, be very certain to put them on hold because they can be damaged if left running.
  8. Utilize a service or automated tools whenever possible. Tools like auto-update should not be used as you won't be able to control when patches are applied, you can't test applications before patches are applied, there is no smoke testing procedure post-patching to decide whether everything is running fine, and there is no patch deployment report available to show the management, auditors, regulators and yourself that you are running a securely patched operation.
  9. Ensure you accommodate your exceptions because sometimes certain applications or servers cannot be patched or upgraded to maintain compatibility with a vital application that is in use. You need to be certain you have another strategy you can use to secure that system from the vulnerability left exposed by the inability to patch the software.

If you need help with patch management best practices for your organization, you can reach out to a team of IT experts at Vicarius. Vicarius is a vulnerability management software patching that focuses on cybersecurity officers as well as the IT operators and managers from the U.S. market.

 

Photo by Liam Simpson on Unsplash

Written by

Kent Weigle

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