What Is Patch Management?
As any developer can tell you, no software is perfect. And even if it was perfect, eventually it would need to be improved to keep up with the latest standards. This is why patches exist; a patch is just a minor change to a computer program, and usually one that corrects a problem.
In your business, you’re likely dealing with dozens, if not hundreds of different devices, operating systems, apps and other systems. Each one of them is probably the subject of new patch releases on a regular basis. Do you know when a new patch comes out? Do you have a plan for how to update everyone in your company with the new patch? Are you certain the patch is free of security vulnerabilities?
These questions and more are integral to creating a patch management strategy.
What’s the Point of a New Patch?
If you want to understand the importance of patch management, you first have to understand the importance of a patch. A patch can do almost anything, but it’s usually focused on fixing a bug, resolving a security issue or adding a new feature.
- System security. Many apps and operating systems end up with security flaws that make them vulnerable to exploitation. When developers discover this, they take efforts to eliminate those flaws. Installing new patches, therefore, increases your security.
- Legal compliance. In many cases, you’ll need to think carefully about patch installation as it relates to legal compliance. If your industry or your company is responsible for keeping customer data private and secure, you’ll be required to pay careful attention to how and when you install new patches.
- Improvements. New patches also frequently introduce new overall improvements to their system. They may fix pesky bugs that interfered with your use of the app, or they may add entirely new features to make the app more functional.
- Total uptime. When installing a patch, you’ll need to consider your system uptime carefully. You don’t want to suffer from extended periods of downtime to install a simple patch.
The Benefits of Better Patch Management
Investing in better patch management grants your business several important advantages:
- Lower risk of cyberattacks. Installing patches whenever they become available can lower your business’s susceptibility to cyberattacks and breaches. Attackers often target newly discovered vulnerabilities, but if you close those vulnerabilities quickly, you won’t provide them with an easy target.
- Access to better security features. Sometimes, patches offer new security features in a system, making it more robust. For example, you might gain access to a new system of multi-factor authentication.
- Uptime and consistency. Patch management is optimized for uptime, keeping your systems up and running for as much of the patch installation process as possible. This is valuable for ensuring your customers retain access to everything they need, while also keeping your staff productive.
- More satisfied customers. If you’re on top of your own patch management strategy, you’ll have higher uptime and fewer data breaches, ultimately leading to more satisfied customers. Higher customer retention from customer satisfaction means more revenue and business consistency.
- Better reputation and consumer trust. Companies that suffer egregious data breaches may never see their reputations fully recover. Installing patches to proactively prevent threats means your business will be capable of cultivating a better reputation over the long term, and you’ll gain more consumer trust.
- Reduction of fines. If you violate any laws or regulations related to your industry, you could face a serious fine. But with a better patch management strategy, you’ll be able to stay on top of the latest updates—and your chances of incurring a fine due to lack of compliance will be sharply reduced.
- Access to new product features. Don’t forget that issuing a new patch also gives you access to new product features. You might find new features that extend the functionality of the system, or elements of redesign that make it easier to use. In many cases, it can improve your productivity.
The Components of Patch Management
There are several phases of the patch management process, which you’ll need to keep in mind.
- Inventory. If you’re going to coordinate the installation of new patches for all your systems and software, you first need to understand which types of software and systems you’re currently using. Through inventorying, you’ll be able to keep and regularly updating a full list.
- Standardization. You might have some of your devices up to the latest standards, but can you be sure that everyone, across all your departments, is up to date? Standardization clarifies your standards for issuing patch updates, and ensures your process is consistent.
- Security controls. What security controls do you have in place? How can you tell when there’s something wrong with one of your systems?
- Vulnerability alerts. When new vulnerabilities are discovered, they’re typically published. Do you have a system in place for getting these vulnerability alerts? If so, who is notified, and how quickly can you take action with a new patch?
- Risk management. Installing new patches can resolve lots of security vulnerabilities, but they can also introduce new risks. If you want your patch management strategy to be successful, you need to have elements of a patch management strategy in place.
- Testing. For most businesses, the best approach is to include a testing phase before rolling out a patch to live servers. Here, you’ll be able to test a patch for security vulnerabilities, compatibility issues, and other problems in a test environment before you take it live.
- Patch application. At this stage, you’ll be ready to apply the patch to all your systems. Correct execution here requires you to maximize uptime during the process, minimizing potential interruptions for your business and your customers.
- Third-party patch management. Your business is not a standalone; rather, part of a bigger ecosystem. While you rely on your third parties, you also assume their security risk. As part of third-party risk mitigation, you need to also ensure that your third parties have proper patch management in place.
How Panorays Can Help
Panorays’ automated third-party security assessments check for any possible supplier cyber gaps, including unpatched technologies. In fact, we discovered that over half of suppliers fail to patch against known critical vulnerabilities.
Want to learn more about how Panorays can help your third parties with patch management? Schedule a demo today.