By Angelica Harvey • July 13, 2017

Why Patch Management is Important for Cybersecurity

The IT field is always rapidly evolving, which allows for new innovation and more efficient ways to get things done (check out the Cisco 2017 Mid-Year Cybersecurity Report). However, this evolution pace also applies to cybercriminals, who come up with new methods of hacking into businesses every year. Through patch management, or program updates, your applications can continuously stay up to date, remain secure, and keep your data safe. 

Now, you might object "Why fix something that's not broken?" There are historical examples in which poorly designed patches were installed and made things worse. However, the longer that a particular version of a software is released, the more time hackers have to find vulnerabilities. Failing to install the patches on time leaves your network exposed to those vulnerabilities. Therefore, it is always smarter to download the patch than not.

What is Patch Management?

If you have a smartphone, you also most likely have some apps installed. In this case, patch management is all the updates your apps have available. Is up to you to configure how and when these updates happen. For example, you can have updates automatically download and install for ease of use, manually install them to see which features are added each time.

Updates are similar on Windows and MacOS. You can manage how you want updates and patches to apply not only to your apps, but also to the OS itself. You'll be notified every time an update is ready to install.

However, things get a bit more complicated with a computer network, given the large amount and size of applications it runs. With computer networks you can't automate patches, so you must therefore prioritize some updates over others. Making this decision can be challenging, but we're here to help.

Dedicate a Patch Manager from your IT Team

Companies that use a network need to have a dedicated person or team to manage patches. Having someone responsible for this task makes security upgrades much easier; they will not only be aware of the latest patch available, but they will also know which patches to prioritize as a result of being a part of the IT team.

As stated in the Cisco Cybersecurity Report, even though constant patches installation is just one small way in building your cybersecurity defense, they also are important pieces to protect your company against ransomware attacks.

Prioritize then Schedule your Upgrades

When will you know that it's time to patch an application in your network? Patches are available at different frequencies, depending on the developer. It's important that your team prioritizes patches according to the importance they have to your computer environment, which isn't necessarily the order in which the patches were released. This way patches with higher priority are not only installed first, but are also monitored closer.

When it comes to patch management, there are several ways to determine the level of importance. Each patch releases with "patch notes", describing in gritty detail each and every feature that was changed. Though looking through these can sometimes be tedious for larger patches, patch notes explain exactly what the patch does and can help your IT department determine the priority of it. It also helps to identify the programs that are used the most to reach your business goals. Patches for these programs should be placed at the highest priority. Once this is done, make sure to turn on automatic updates for applications that offer them and schedule when you want the system to run them.

Remember that patch management is just one of the many core components of a cybersecurity strategy.  You need to have multiple layers of security to protect your business throughout an attack. For example, knowing what ransomware is and how it operates will provide another layer on how to build an effective security strategy.

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