What is Patch Management?
Patch management is the process of identifying, testing, and installing patches (code changes) on existing applications and software tools on a computer in order to fix bugs, close security holes, or add features. Patch management is a critical process as it helps to keep computers and networks secure, reliable, up to date, and compliant with security and privacy regulations.
Patch management can be done in-house using patch management tools with features such as real-time visibility into network devices and software, patch automation, administrative controls, patch management policy programming, and patch validation. Alternatively, MSP patch management can simplify the patch management process by performing patch management in conjunction with other network management services that they provide. MSPs have knowledge and expertise in patch deployments and can ensure that the process is smooth and effective. As there are many considerations in the patch management lifecycle; the following best practices have been recommended for those undertaking the task1:
Targets for patching. Clearly identify patching targets and their locations.
Establish patching procedures. Standard patching procedures should have clearly established windows for regularly scheduled patching, while emergency procedures should be clearly established to explain how to patch outside of the windows for regularly scheduled patching.
Vendor patch-release schedules. Operating systems, applications, and endpoint firmware have varying types and varying patch-release schedules to be aware of.
Realistic test environment. The test environment should closely match the production environment, including workload fluctuations, and will need to be updated when the production environment is changed. This can be done with a representative sample of assets, in a virtual test environment, or with an online service.
Review process and results. Reviewing the patch management key performance indicators can help identify potential improvements.
Prioritize patches by risk level. Assign risk levels to assets and test, schedule, and deploy patches by prioritizing the most critical assets.
Stay current on security vulnerabilities. Subscribe to reputable security vulnerability news sources and use software composition analysis tools to track open source and third-party components.
Deploy patches swiftly. Protect from cyberattacks by deploying patches as quickly as possible.
Execute rollouts in stages. Begin the rollout with less critical systems and then continue the rollout to every system if the patches perform as anticipated.
Create rollback plan. In the event something goes wrong, have a backup or image snapshot of systems before starting patch deployment in order to restore them to their previous state.
1 Essex, 2022, “What is patch management? Lifecycle, benefits, and best practices”