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Improving Your Patch Management Strategy

improving your patch management strategy

With a complex threat landscape and a rise in cyberattacks happening every year, creating a defensible business is mission critical. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their tactics, and high-profile cyber incidents are consistently hitting the news cycle. Plus, not only are cyberattacks increasing, they’re becoming more damaging. The cost of cybercrime globally is expected to hit $10.5 trillion by 2025, and 60% of businesses that experience a data breach often shut their doors within six months. Just recently, biogenetics company 23andMe experienced a leak of users’ genetic information, and the Las Vegas mega-hotel MGM Resort is expected to pay $100 million in ransomware for its most recent cyberattack.

The security stakes are higher than ever, yet businesses face unique challenges around protecting applications, software, users, devices, and their network infrastructure. A vast majority of workers are operating remotely at least one day a week. And with distributed teams on the rise, employees are connecting to sensitive company information from anywhere and everywhere. Patch management enters as a vital component of a well-formed cybersecurity strategy.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is patch management?
  • Why software patch management is important
  • How to implement a security patching policy
  • The role patch management plays in your endpoint strategy
  • Best practices for patch management
  • Benefits of leveraging third-party software patch management

What Is Patch Management?

Patch management is the process of routinely updating software and hardware to remove security issues, fix bugs, or upgrade to the latest features. Patch management helps standardize software versions, ensuring all users are using the most up-to-date capabilities. Often with the new software versions comes vulnerability fixes, feature enhancements, workflow upgrades, and higher performance.

The global patch management market is expected to hit $1.7 million by 2032, growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% over the next decade according to a recent Polaris Market Research report. That illustrates the importance of patch management as a continuous, ongoing product lifecycle within the information technology (IT) department. Especially as software integrates more machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies, security systems will become even more important.

Why Software Patch Management Is Important

Patch management is vital to a secure and protected business for a multitude of reasons. Without proper patch management, business systems are exposed to security vulnerabilities that cybercriminals are all too willing to exploit. Organizations run the risk of falling victim to phishing and social engineering attacks, which can result in lost data, ransom damages, reduced business revenue, decreased consumer trust, and even regulatory fines.

Proactively Fix Vulnerabilities and Known Issues

According to the Ponemon Institute, an estimated 60% of cyberattacks could have been prevented if software was patched appropriately. The main goal of security patching is proactively fixing known vulnerabilities within software and applications.

Improved System Uptime

With the proper testing and system deployment, patch management can ultimately improve system performance and uptime. Patch management ensures that systems are stable and reliable, which reduces the likelihood of an outage or crash. Even without a cyber breach, outdated software systems can create less-than-ideal functioning, which can cause critical infrastructure to go down for an extended period of time. The cost of downtime is expensive, with the average business paying $274,200.

Feature Functionality Improvements

With the latest versions of software, users and customers alike can enjoy the latest innovations and feature enhancements. Most vendors consistently release new features throughout the year, and staying proactive with patch management increases productivity and efficiency when users can utilize the latest enhancements.

Enhanced Regulatory Compliance

The growing number of cybersecurity regulations are creating consistent standards for patch management. For regulations like GDPR, GLBA, PCI DSS, and HIPP, a fully documented patch management process with step-by-step procedures is required to adequately comply. Without regulatory compliance, organizations risk legal penalties and potential shutdowns.

How to Implement a Security Patching Policy

Well-executed security patching doesn’t happen overnight. However, it’s one of the most effective ways to protect all endpoint devices, including mobile phones, laptops, computers, tablets, and more. Here are a few simple tips for building and implementing a security patching policy.

Create a Patch Management Policy

First, create a step-by-step patch management plan that outlines details like internal stakeholders, any third-party patch management software, a review of endpoints, and a baseline assessment of vulnerabilities. Once a detailed action plan is drafted, circulate it among all relevant stakeholders for agreement and approval. Outline frequency, time frames, and priority for patch management.

Secure Executive and Leadership Buy-In

As with any new cybersecurity strategy, obtaining leadership buy-in helps make ambitious goals a reality. Not only does leadership give the green light for budget approvals, but their attitude and stance on the importance of patch management also trickle down to all employees. Strong executive buy-in helps obtain the resources, software, and IT support to effectively run a patch management strategy. Plus, when leadership clearly sees the benefits of protecting endpoint devices, they’re more likely to support new cybersecurity initiatives as well.

Stay Up to Date on Security Patching

Now, the most important part is executing the process on time. Having a formalized patch management policy creates consistency and standardization that all teams can rely on and reference.

The Role Patch Management Plays in Your Endpoint Strategy

In the ever-evolving world of cybersecurity, organizations must prioritize endpoint security as a crucial aspect of their overall strategy. At the heart of an effective endpoint strategy lies the implementation of robust patch management practices.

Endpoints, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices, are often the primary targets for cyberattacks. Unpatched vulnerabilities in these devices can provide a gateway for threat actors to exploit and compromise sensitive data. Patch management plays a pivotal role in mitigating these vulnerabilities by ensuring that software and applications installed on endpoints are up to date with the latest security patches. This proactive approach significantly reduces the attack surface and enhances the overall security posture.

While patch management plays a critical role in your overall endpoint management strategy, it should not be the only aspect of it. To fully protect your endpoint devices, be sure your strategy includes the following:

  • System patching: Create a system patching policies and procedures to automate patching of operating systems and select third-party applications.
  • Managed detection and response: Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services identify and prevent advanced security attacks. By working with a managed services provider, you gain MDR services to detect, alert, and mitigate against attacks faster.
  • Continuous monitoring and reporting: To understand your device availability, health and performance, and inventory, your endpoint devices need to be continuously monitored. You also need the ability to report on endpoint devices to ensure you’re keeping up with best practices.
  • Remote system support: Remote Systems support features provides 24/7 troubleshooting and repair of endpoint devices.
  • Lifecycle management: Organizations need to have a proper lifecycle management program for their endpoint devices that includes proactive reporting and communication of end-of-life status.
  • DNS protection: Combat Internet-born threats and enforce Internet usage policy with DNS Protection that includes the use and management of the DNS Agent software, configuration of security policies, and monitoring and reporting on browsing activity and security events.
  • Next-generation antivirus solutions: By implementing a next-generation antivirus, your organization benefits from protections at the device level.
  • Security awareness training: By implementing Security Awareness Training, you can improve cybersecurity best practices that your employees use to minimize human error. A good security awareness training program includes continuous and interactive training, phishing simulations, and quizzes.
  • Email security: Inbox Detection and Response allows users to easily report potential phishing emails. Reported emails are quarantined then scanned by software and SOC personnel to identify threats. Within just a few minutes, safe emails are returned to the users’ inbox and all instances of malicious emails are automatically removed from all other users’ mailboxes.

6 Patch Management Best Practices

While patch management feels like a daunting task, staying up-to-date with security patches leads to overall enhanced performance and security. Take a look at these patch management best practices.

1. Build a Schedule and Stick to It

Sticking to a patch management schedule is one of the simplest, but often difficult, practices to follow through with. Internal IT teams get busy, other issues arise, and patch management might fall by the wayside. However, the patch management schedule created in the beginning lays the foundation for a baseline level of security for your business. Proactive patching reduces vulnerabilities, keeps applications running at the highest performing level, and keeps systems up to date.

2. Prioritize the Highest-Risk Vulnerabilities

A risk-based vulnerability management system rates and ranks different applications based on the severity of the vulnerability. For example, any systems dealing with financial information might be the most vulnerable. This helps prioritize resources and action, ensuring the most at-risk systems are always quickly patched.

3. Ensure Consistency of Risk Levels Across Teams

For different departments and teams monitoring software management, a consistent categorization of risk levels is important. Again, this helps align resources and strategy, ensuring IT teams can prioritize and respond appropriately.

4. Report on Patch Management KPIs

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for your patch management strategy and regularly report against them. KPIs can include both qualitative and quantitative metrics that also hold team members accountable. Some ideas for patch management KPIs are listed below:

  • Average time to apply a patch after it is released by the vendor
  • The percentage of systems within a business with the latest patches installed
  • The percentage of systems that meet the standard policies and requirements

Regular reporting and updating of these KPIs help keep internal teams aligned and working on the most important tasks. It also provides a layer of visibility and transparency to senior leadership.

5. Work With a Third-Party Provider

Continuous patch management is a time-consuming process. Like many IT strategies, outsourced third-party providers help subsidize internal teams with specialized support, the latest technology, and next-generation solutions.

6. Test Patches Before Deployment

Testing patches before deployment is important for making patch management an asset to your organization and not an incident that needs fixing. Test on development servers before releasing to production, as it will alleviate any headaches when it comes to working well with the rest of these system’s architecture.

Benefits of Leveraging Third-Party Software Patch Management

While many organizations have a patch management policy in place, they are often behind in following their schedule, which leads to security vulnerabilities. Internal IT teams are burned out, stretched thin, and often dealing with day-to-day problems like resetting passwords.

Partnering with a third-party software patch management company ensures an effective schedule is closely followed and best practices are implemented. A third-party provider can also monitor patch status and provide continuous reporting to your internal team. Not only can they provide expert support, but outsourcing to a managed services provider is often more cost-effective than hiring and retaining a full, specialized IT team in-house.

How TPx Can Help With Your Patch Management

Patch management can no longer be an afterthought for your team. As part of a well-formulated endpoint security strategy, patch management is just one piece of the cybersecurity puzzle. Work with TPx, an industry leader in endpoint security and patch management, to ensure endpoint devices are working and secure with 24/7 monitoring.

Talk with our team today to see how we can support your cybersecurity initiatives.

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