It's no secret that keeping software up to date is one of the key best practices in cybersecurity. Software vulnerabilities are being discovered almost weekly these days. The longer it takes IT teams to apply updates issued by developers to patch these security flaws, the more time attackers have to exploit the underlying vulnerability. Once threat actors gain access to corporate IT ecosystems, they can steal or encrypt sensitive data, deploy ransomware, damage systems, and more. When there's a known exploit for a critical vulnerability, the need to deploy patches becomes critical.
At the same time, while IT teams race to keep their operating systems, business applications, and web browsers up to date and fully patched, they have to exercise caution, since applying patches without proper testing can introduce more problems than it solves.
The reality is, many organizations are struggling to maintain the upper hand against threats. According to Action1's 2021 Remote IT Management Challenges Report, 78% of organizations admit that they failed to patch critical vulnerabilities in a timely manner during the past year, and 62% said they suffered a breach due to a known vulnerability for which patch was available but not yet applied.
Fortunately, effective and continuous patch management is within reach. This article explains the challenges and the key best practices for overcoming them.
Why is it challenging for IT teams to manage security updates?
Wide range of software to be kept updated
Organizations often focus on keeping their operating systems patched. While OS patching is certainly critical, third-party software is also subject to vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. Indeed, organizations use a wide range of third-party applications, from databases to web browsers, which need to be constantly patched, too.
While small offices may have only a few workstations and servers to worry about, large organizations often have a huge number of devices to keep patched. And it's not just the sheer volume that's a problem — each device might have its own hardware configuration and installed software, which adds a great deal of complexity to the patch management process.
Moreover, the move to a work-from-anywhere format means IT teams often do not have direct access to the IT assets they need to update, which makes it even more harder to keep all corporate machines up to date with the latest security updates. Indeed, on-premises patch management tools have become outdated in the modern era of remote and hybrid work.
Lack of effective processes and tools
The Action1 study found that 38% of IT teams cannot get information about all updates in one place and prioritize them effectively, and nearly as many (37%) say they have to use too many non-integrated tools to track and deploy updates. Moreover, some patch management solutions are often so complicated that they require a dedicated specialist to use.
What are the best practices for managing security updates?
To establish an effective patch management process, consider the following best practices:
- Inventory your systems and software — You can't fix what you don't know about. Scan your environment for assets and installed software, and keep track of your inventory.
- Group your assets — Categorize your endpoints based on their installed operating systems, services, and applications, so you can deploy patches to all affected assets simultaneously.
- Prioritize risks — Determine which of your assets are most critical from both a security perspective and a business continuity standpoint. Key questions to answer include:
- Which assets must be patched immediately?
- What types of patches need to be deployed promptly?
- What constraints are there around patching certain assets during working hours? If an update must be applied right away, how can you mitigate the impact on the business?
- Test patches before deploying them organization-wide — Before rolling out a patch across all your endpoints, test it on small control group.
- Apply patches promptly — Don't give attackers extra time to exploit known vulnerabilities. In particular, patches that address critical flaws should be applied without undue delay.
- Stay on top of known vulnerabilities — If you not aware of a threat, you can't mitigate it. While it can be quite cumbersome to review all CVEs, at least get into the habit of regularly reviewing news in media as well as vulnerability digests from patch management software vendors.
- Automate — No one can manage the modern flood of patches effectively using a manual approach. A solid patch management software will save you time and ensure far more reliable results by streamlining the patching process.
- Cover all your devices — Be sure that your patch management process and solution cover not just in-office machines but all your remote endpoints as well.
What solutions can help?
The Action1 cloud-native patch management platform supports all of the best practices detailed above. It relieves IT teams from the strain of manual patching by providing them with intelligent automation capabilities and empowering them to enforce continuous patch compliance for their remote and in-office machines. Even better, you can cover your first 100 endpoints completely free.