Patch management software or tools are responsible for patching your systems against various security vulnerabilities. Their job ends with the application of these security patches onto your network’s systems in a systematic manner. But the process of patch management is not just about the application of these security patches.
Rather, it’s a never-ending cycle which involves several phases which have to be planned out carefully even before these security patches are deployed. Only then these security patches will serve their purpose efficiently – that of securing your network. Without a proper plan or strategy in place, the complications associated with patch management will only get magnified, inspiring fear and lack of action.
A case in point being the recent spate of ransomware attacks like WannaCry, Petya or Non-Petya etc., which was caused largely due to improper Windows patch management.
So what do you think should go into the making of a good patch management strategy? Here are some suggestions.
- System or Device Cataloguing: It is nearly impossible for a network to have identical devices all patched up using the same patch-update so that you easily follow a ‘one-patch-fits all systems‘ routine. This can be true only in an idealistic world. But in reality, a network will contain a variety of systems, each of which may need a different security patch or update.
Therefore the first and foremost thing you should do is catalog all the devices in your network to understand their patch-related requirements. Because only after having gathered these details, you can go about applying the correct security patches to them.
- Patch Prioritization: Patches typically have an impact on the IT resources as some may even need a system restart. Therefore enterprises have to prioritize the implementation of these incoming security patches based on factors like whether the security vulnerability being addressed is critical or not, the effect patching will have on the target system and on other systems it interacts with, to streamline the patch management related activities.
- Process Creation & Maintenance: You cannot release or implement security patches into your network and hope everything would turn out fine. The process is not that simple! For starters, there are no guarantee security patches will offer security. Hackers may find another exploit in them and these security patches may become outdated as soon as they released into the market.
Then there’s that question of whether the security patch will suit your organization or not. This, in turn, raises the question as to what steps you should be taking in case it does not suit your organization.
All these questions further raise the need for a standard process to be put in place which facilitates seamless patch implementation and maintenance while, at the same time, ensuring your day-to-day IT activities remain streamlined.
- Patch Testing: When it comes to security patches, two factors should be taken into account always. One is will the security patch be effective? Will it stand the test of time? Two is how your environment will react to the security patch? Will it increase your security or offer some hindrances. To test or analyze all these factors, to understand the implications of applying a security patch, you need to have a dedicated test environment where you can test all the security patches you wish to install your networks with.
- Change Management: Patching related activities mean a lot of changes to your network. And managing all these changes is not easy. Therefore you need a change management system in place using which you can bring about or implement these changes effectively. For example, for drafting a rollback plan in case a security patch deployment affects your environment adversely for some reason or the other.
- End-User Education: Last but not the least, educating your users about the importance of patching. Although you should aim to take all aspects of patch management out of your user’s hands, ensuring your users are not even pestered with installation updates, it’s definitely worth teaching them the importance of staying patched up.
Who knows, considering the way hackers are exploring new avenues, they may cause an attack where you have no option but to get the assistance of users themselves in manually patching their systems. So you have to be ready for this as well.
Hope these suggestions help you in establishing a good patch management strategy which can assist you to effectively patch your network systems.