What is Patch Management?
Patches are software and operating system updates that address security vulnerabilities and are used to keep all digital assets up to date. On an individual level, patch management is fairly straightforward. A vulnerability is discovered, a patch is developed and then run by the end-user when time allows or performed via the system’s auto-update feature.
Scaling up to an organizational level, however, significantly increases complexity, and efficient patch management becomes a necessity. Systems today are interconnected, and changes or downtimes in one area can have unforeseen and unintended effects throughout an organization. Because of these factors, many businesses struggle to implement company-wide patching, leaving themselves vulnerable to cyber attacks or other disasters.
Importance of Patching
Patching foremost helps secure computer systems and servers against potential security threats. Cybercrime is a problem all organizations face, and malicious actors constantly search for new ways to exploit known vulnerabilities. A report from Positive Technologies shows 31% of companies have detected attempts to exploit software vulnerabilities.
Organizations can close security gaps by regularly applying patches and preventing attackers from accessing sensitive data or compromising systems. While neglecting to promptly patch systems leaves them vulnerable to cyberattacks, data breaches, loss of sensitive information or financial damage. According to a Ponemon survey, unpatched vulnerabilities were involved in nearly 60% of data breaches.
Patching also helps maintain the stability and compatibility of software systems. Many patches include fixes for bugs and other issues that can cause the software to crash or behave unexpectedly. Patching ensures that software remains functional and uninhibited by errors, reducing the risk of downtime and the need for costly technical repair.
In addition to resolving bugs and security issues, patching often provides access to new features and enhancements. Software vendors regularly release updates that add new functionality. Organizations can utilize these improved features to enhance their workflow.
Finally, patching is essential for compliance with various regulatory requirements. Many industries are subject to strict regulations and standards that require the protection of sensitive information and consistent maintenance of technical environments. By regularly patching systems and servers, organizations can demonstrate their adherence to these regulations and avoid potential legal penalties.
Common Problems with Patch Management
While the benefits of patching are pretty straightforward, many organizations face challenges in implementing a consistent approach to patch management. There are several reasons why system-wide patch management is problematic for businesses, including:
Complex IT Environments
Many organizations have complicated IT environments, with a variety of systems, servers, and applications running on multiple platforms. This inherent complexity makes tracking which systems need patching and when challenging. Additionally, older systems and applications may not be compatible with all patches, making it difficult for organizations to maintain security and stability.
Patch Testing & Review
Before applying any patch, organizations must review all new releases alongside their accompanying notes and run tests to ensure updates won’t trigger compatibility issues with existing systems. This process is time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially for larger organizations with expansive IT environments.
Applying patches often requires systems to be offline for a period of time. This downtime can potentially lead to a temporary loss of productivity and revenue. Because of this concern, patching is often pushed to non-typical business hours, forcing IT staff to work overnight or during weekends.
Many organizations have limited IT resources, making it challenging to prioritize patching in the face of other pressing demands on time and within budget.
The difficulty in patching for businesses is often due to a combination of these factors, including the sheer volume of systems and applications that need to be maintained and the need to balance security and stability with the demands of day-to-day operations. Despite these challenges, organizations must prioritize patching and adopt effective strategies for maintaining their systems.
Outsourcing Patch Management
Outsourcing patch management can be an effective solution for organizations that lack the expertise or resources to manage this process in-house. By working with an experienced vendor, organizations can ensure their systems are secure and up-to-date while freeing up internal resources to focus on other important tasks and initiatives. A business might choose to outsource patch management for numerous reasons:
Lack of In-house Expertise
Organizations may not have the technical expertise or resources to manage patching effectively. By outsourcing patch management, a business gains access to the skills and know-how of a partner specializing in this area.
Reviews, Tests and Validation
Review of release notes for all pertinent information and testing the effects of each patch are essential steps. An organization tackling this on its own will undoubtedly find the process both demanding and laborious. Enlisting external assistance speeds up validation and likely reduces cost.
Time and Staff Usage Reduction
Outsourcing patch management helps organizations save time and reduce expenditures by eliminating the allocation of internal staffing resources, thus freeing their IT teams to focus on more strategic projects and initiatives.
Improved Efficiency and Security
Organizations can benefit from a partner’s streamlined processes and automated tools, helping to reduce downtime and ensure patches are applied consistently and punctually.
Access to Best Practices
An experienced patch management vendor can bring best practices and expertise that an organization might not have access to otherwise.
Many industries have strict regulations regarding data and systems security. By outsourcing patch management, organizations can ensure that they meet these protocols and maintain compliance with industry standards.
The benefits, especially for small and mid-sized businesses, of obtaining outside assistance with patch management go beyond those listed above. Engaging a partner to perform patch management allows for a patching timetable that compliments an organization’s production environment. Additionally, an experienced partner works with multiple clients, meaning well-rounded, real-world experience and the ability to adapt whenever necessary.
OneNeck Has Your Back!
While patching may be time-consuming and complex, it is critical to ensuring your organization is safe and secure from cyberattacks. OneNeck is here to help with an experienced team that provides solutions for patching and any other aspect of systems management that your organization may require. We have extensive experience across multiple platforms and industries, allowing us to provide a right-fit solution for you.
Check out our Monthly Patching Blog series to keep up to date on the latest critical updates from our vendors.
Frequently asked questions…
Who is responsible for patch management?
While patching is often the responsibility of the operations or infrastructure team, it is a process that involves everyone in the organization.
What is a patch management plan?
Patch management is the process for identifying, acquiring, testing, installing and verifying software and/or firmware updates. An effective patch management plan ensures all identified system components are the latest version supported by a vendor.
How do I create a patch management plan?
Creating a patch management plan is accomplished by developing a process that performs necessary patching in a consistent and timely manner. Organizations must identifies updates, review release notes, test for system compatibility and perform installs with minimal disruption to operations.
Is patch management a part of cyber security?
Patch management is an essential aspect of an organization’s cybersecurity posture. Unpatched software applications or operating systems are a prime cause of security breaches.