Best Practices in Patch Management (2022 Guide)

Sometimes, the software we use doesn't act as described – maybe it takes too long to respond to a command, glitches, or freezes until we reset the app or our device. 
A good restart often fixes the issue, making us feel like computer masterminds. However, most often, the software relies on its developers' efforts to function correctly at all times.  
Now, instead of us telling you straightaway, let's play a guessing game: What do old clothes and modern software have in common? 
Yep, it's "patches"! 
A patch refers to a small piece of code aiming to fix a bug or a security vulnerability within operational software.  
Patches confine two crucial terms for users – availability and application. Sometimes, the difference between an available and an applied patch determines the security and functionality of your data, device, or the entire system. 
As you've probably noticed, most software developers attach patch notes to publicly released patches. These notes describe the bugs and vulnerabilities the patch is trying to fix. (or have already fixed) 
While this practice offers clarity for users applying the patch, it also gives away potential vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit. If malicious third parties inspect the patch notes, they could pinpoint weak entry points and attempt to breach unpatched devices. This is why the best practices in patch management suggest applying patches as soon as they are available to you. 
This way, you can keep your devices and network updated, secure, and operational most efficiently. Additionally, it's best to monitor the progress and performance of all software to ensure you've applied the newest patches successfully. 
Below are the steps we take to engage in a sensible patch management process. We hope they'd be helpful to you as well! 

Patch Management Best Practices 

A comprehensive patch management plan may seem challenging at first, but all cybersecurity processes get more manageable when we take the time for research and practical implementation. 
It's easier for us to take a complex task and divide it into smaller ones. This way, we operate step-by-step and gradually develop a concrete plan to keep all devices and apps updated. Once you form a plan that suits your needs and schedule, it will virtually sustain itself. 
As individual users can follow a more simplified guide, we will add that at the bottom of the article. As for businesses, let's go through the more comprehensive road to sensible patching! 

What Needs Patching? – Inventory 

Most medium and large companies operate from one over-packed location or multiple offices spread across the country or even across several countries. While expansion is good for business, it can raise vulnerability issues for the increasing number of devices and apps within your networks. 
To avoid unpatched devices in your system, you should inspect, categorize, and monitor all hardware and software in use. Once you've done inventory, you'll know which devices are optimally updated and which ones need immediate patching. 
With a clear picture in mind, you can proceed to cross-examine potential weak points and fortify security before a breach occurs. More importantly, you can start building a long-term patching strategy to gradually automate the process, thus saving on costs, time, and employee efforts. 

Which Devices and Networks Are Most Exposed to a Breach? – Risk Assessment 

Once you've finished inventory, it's time to go through every device and app and assess the risk associated with each of them. 
While all systems benefit from sensible patching, some items in your inventory require higher security priority. For instance, let's look at server patching.  
Servers not accessible from the internet aren't exposed to cyber threats, so they don't require instant patching. The same goes for manual-access apps or applications you rarely use. While the latter holds some vulnerabilities (if connected to the internet), manual access enables educated employees to operate apps with security in mind. 
On the other end, internet-dependent apps and devices your company uses daily are a top priority for vulnerability patching. They carry potential entry points for attackers, and you need to make sure no point is exposed to the risk of a breach. 

Which Software Is Essential? – Software Optimization 

Larger companies, especially enterprises, often purchase software from different vendors dedicated to similar, if not identical, functions and purposes. 
While some businesses benefit from a greater software volume, having different apps from various providers means a higher risk exposure. Companies can periodically sift out overlapping software in use to avoid such exposure.  
You can review different software solutions, pick the best-performing one for your needs, and terminate the rest to keep your systems as optimized as possible. 
What is more, the less software you operate, the fewer patches you'd need to apply regularly. 

What and When to Patch? – Patch Notes Subscription 

As we've mentioned, most companies rely on third-party developers for various purposes. It's cost-effective, more convenient, and frees up operational time to focus on business-critical projects. 
Nevertheless, using third-party software means you have to keep up with vendor patch notes. Now that you've finished inventory, it should be easier to keep track of all patch announcements. However, it's still best to subscribe to all security-related patch notes updates and monitor them accordingly. 
What's more, you can embed patch notes subscriptions into your patching schedule to ensure every patch will go through as soon as it's released. 

How to Protect In-House Apps? – Application Patching 

Many modern businesses develop brand apps to offer services to customers. Whether in development or finished and operating, applications built in-house are more flexible to patching than operating systems and servers. 
You can monitor your custom code to pinpoint vulnerabilities, add the exposed portions to your dev's backlog, and immediately patch them. For app-driven brands, in-house application patching is even more crucial than vendor patches. 
By patching your products as soon as possible, you can secure your intellectual property against hackers or accidental data leaks. For operational products, you can ensure neither a user nor your company falls victim to sophisticated hacker attacks. 

Do Patches Work Correctly? – Patch Testing 

We've emphasized how important it is to apply patches as soon as they're out. Nonetheless, every system environment operates differently; an untested patch can disrupt your whole company network, render devices unusable, or open up possibilities for a successful hacker attack. This is why patch testing is vital to any company, small or large.  
To test patches securely, you can apply them to a small subset of devices or systems within your network. Afterward, you can monitor their performance, pinpoint potential problems, and work to fix them before the patch hits all company devices and servers. 
Once you've checked the patch across multiple systems, you can apply it to larger groups until your entire network is updated optimally. 

How Can We Ease the Process? – Automated Patching 

We've talked about third-party vendors and how they can overwhelm a company network. However, automated patching solutions present tremendous value to any organization – they take a huge workload off your teams' shoulders, and you'd only need a single solution to maintain your patching schedule. 
Nevertheless, you need to do your due diligence and find the solution matching your specific patching needs. 
In most cases, automated patching is more accurate and efficient than manual patching, and modern solutions often offer highly customizable options to form a unique patch management process. However, you can choose to rely on a patching team in-house and develop an automated schedule within the company. 
If you decide to use outside assistance, it's best to rely on a service that provides both patch management and cybersecurity options. The top-performing cybersecurity vendors have implemented safe patching practices into their subscription plans – you'd not only automate your patching easily but also gain enhanced security against malicious attacks. 
Suppose you feel that your company needs real-time antivirus protection, regular physical and cloud backups, and threat monitoring tools. In that case, a comprehensive cybersecurity solution will go best with an automated patching service. 

Patch Management for Home Users 

Now that we've covered company patch management, let's look at individual users. If you're a home system user, you don't need to worry about company networks – you can put your efforts towards securing your home system and all devices in it. 
Below is a list of the best patching practices for individual users in 2022: 

  • Apply OS patches as soon as they are available 
  • Manage automated-start apps, especially those that require internet connection 
  • Regularly check apps you use daily for updates; once an update is available, it's best to apply it immediately 
  • Regularly sift through and uninstall unused or rarely used apps to deny potential entry points for attackers or system overload 
  • Initiate regular data backups to the cloud; this one may seem off-the-point but having a reliable backup on the cloud means you can access all of your data even if a patch renders your device unusable for a while 
  • Try and use a single solution for a specific task (be it work- or leisure-related); the fewer programs you have running, the fewer patches you'd need to monitor and install 

With this, we conclude our article. We wish you safe and efficient patching! 

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