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What Is Patch Management: A Guide

What is Patch Management

In today’s high-tech work landscape, cyber security is more important than ever. Ransomware attacks have been on the rise in recent years.1 While big-name data breaches are more likely to make the news, cybercriminals don’t discriminate. In fact, 66% of small businesses have reported experiencing a cyber attack in the last 12 months.2 

One way companies can protect themselves from cybercriminals is by implementing effective patch management. So, what is patch management? Patch management is the process of updating your company’s software systems regularly to ensure they’re protected with the latest security updates. 

Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about protecting your business with patch management.

What is the Purpose of Patching?

So, why is patch management important? When a software developer identifies a security vulnerability or functionality issue within their software, they create and deploy patches to address them. Patches are pieces of code that can improve the security or functionality of the following infrastructures:

  • Software
  • Operating systems
  • Routers
  • IoT equipment
  • Servers

Patching promptly enables companies to maintain better security, compliance, and productivity. Unfortunately, many companies fail to apply their patches fast enough. While unpatched, these companies are sitting ducks for cyber attacks. 

Cybercriminals often conduct their attacks right after software security updates are released, knowing that many companies won’t patch them promptly enough. In fact, the average time to patch is 102 days.3 Remaining unpatched for this amount of time could have serious consequences. 

The Risks of Not Using Patch Management 

Delayed patch deployment could certainly leave your company more susceptible to a security breach. But forgoing patch management altogether could come at an even higher cost. Potential risks include:

  • Increased susceptibility to cybercrime – Cybercriminals know that many companies don’t update their patches in a timely manner. Unpatched systems are easy for them to exploit. Without patch management, your company could be at risk of a disruptive, expensive cyber attack. 
  • Compliance issues – Some companies must adhere to strict security standards to protect their clients’ personal information. Patch management helps companies stay in compliance. Without patch management, you could be at risk of incurring costly fines and penalties from your regulatory body.
  • Reduced productivity – Patching doesn’t just strengthen your security—it also improves the functionality of your software systems. If you forgo patch management, your company’s productivity may suffer. Your company may fall behind the competition as a result.

As you can see, patch management empowers you to proactively protect your company from costly cyberattacks, compliance complications, and damaging dips in productivity.

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What Are the Three Types of Patch Management?

There are three types of patches that are commonly deployed during patch management. 

These patches include:

  • Security patches – Security patches address a security vulnerability. Applying security patches promptly is essential to maintaining the security of your company’s IT infrastructure.
  • Bug-fixing patches – Bug-fixing patches amend bugs and errors within your software. They can enhance your company’s operational efficiency and reduce annoyances for your employees who may otherwise have to waste their time troubleshooting.
  • Upgrade patches – Some patches improve the performance of software by installing new features and upgrades. While these types of patches aren’t necessary for security, they can improve the speed, ease of use, and overall performance of your software. 

Proper patch management implements all three patches to help your company operate at its best. 

See related: Patch Management vs. Vulnerability Management

The Patch Management Process

Simply put, patch management is an essential process. But what exactly does it entail?

Here’s a brief overview of some patch management best practices:

  • Step 1: Take inventory of your IT systems – The first step is to take stock of your company’s software and hardware infrastructures. Once you have a complete list of your software, operating systems, third-party applications, and IT devices, you can make sure you patch all of them going forward.
  • Step 2: Choose the right patch management software – Patching can be a time-consuming process. Luckily, patch management software can make it much easier.

    So, what is patch management software? It’s software that automates the patch management process. Automation can speed up your patching process and eliminate any potential for human error, enhancing its efficiency and accuracy.

    It’s important to note that not every patch management software works with every software vendor. As a result, you’ll want to choose a patch management software that’s compatible with your current operating systems, whether you use Windows, Mac, Linux, or a combination. Your patch management software should also offer:

    • Patching for third-party applications
    • Remote patching services for work-from-home employees
    • Detailed patch management reporting
  • Step 3: Scan for available patches – Once you’ve chosen patch management software, you can let it scan your systems for new patches. As soon as new patches are available, you can decide if and when you want to implement them.
  • Step 4: Prioritize your patches – Some software security vulnerabilities put your company at greater risk than others. Thus, it’s a good idea to apply multiple patches in order of their importance.
  • Step 5: Test patches on a small subset of systems – Implementing multiple patches quickly is highly important. However, you shouldn’t apply them without testing them first. You can test patches on a small subset of your system to ensure they don’t cause any performance issues.
  • Step 6: Apply patches across the board – Once you’ve made sure that a security patch is successful, you can apply it to your entire system and monitor its progress. Thanks to patch management software’s automation, this process is a breeze. 
  • Step &: Develop a clear patch management policy – Patches should be applied according to a consistent schedule. You can outline this schedule in your patch management policy. You should also document your patching efforts to ensure you’re prepared for any compliance auditing.

Patching is an ongoing process. As a result, these steps will need to be repeated continuously to ensure your company is always protected. 

Syncro: Patch Management Made Easy

Now that you understand what patch management is, you may be wondering how you can start implementing it at your company. 

Here at Syncro, our Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) operating system includes MSP patch management services. We can help you keep your Windows server and third-party applications up to date with ease. As we automate your patch deployment and share detailed reports, you can sit back and enjoy the peace of mind of knowing your patch management is taken care of.

Patch management is just one of the many services included in our RMM software. Learn more about our additional managed services provider offerings today. 

Caitlin Good

Denver-based content marketing manager for Syncro. Curator of new experiences: creating compelling and helpful content on the weekday, exploring nature and cities on the weekend.

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