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Is Automated Patch Management Safe?

By December 5, 2017 No Comments

Sysadmins and IT managers burdened with the responsibility of patching systems manually are thrilled with the idea of implementing an automated patch management process. Automating the process removes time consuming tasks including checking each workstation and server for vulnerabilities, identifying missing patches, applying the patches to each machine, and then doing it again and again across the entire infrastructure.

Despite the time, resource, and financial savings that automated patch management affords, many IT professionals remain hesitant to automate the process. A leading reason for this is the misconception of a lack of control with an automated solution.  Organizations with network dependencies fear that automated patch management, and the ability to apply patches automatically, will cause more problems than it solves.

The Risks of Automating Patch Management

Staying up-to-date on patching is crucial for network security and compliance, but applying a patch that negatively impacts the network can be riskier than not patching at all. Updates released by Microsoft and other reputable software distributors have been known to “brick”[1] computers or take down networks, resulting in lost productivity, angry customers, and a fire drill for the IT team.

Today’s mixed OS and hybrid cloud environments are complex, consisting of a mix of hundreds or thousands of systems, multiple OS versions, and a growing list of software applications. Compounding the complexity, many companies built programs around legacy software or hardware which needs to stay active. Application of patches that have not been tested and manually approved is too risky of a proposition.

Unfortunately, not patching is no longer an option. New regulations, cyber insurance requirements, and concern from the board are driving mandatory patch management processes.  With thousands of new exploits every year, automation is the only way to keep up with patching needs.

Automated Patch Management You Control

Fortunately, this fear often comes out of a lack of knowledge around how newer automated patch management systems work. When patch automation was first released, it was largely on-premise, meaning it was another piece of infrastructure that IT Managers needed to maintain and update.

Early patch automation systems did not give users much control over how and when patches were applied. This resulted in IT teams patching low-severity vulnerabilities automatically, with critical patches still remediated manually. These solutions did not support patch testing workflows.

Modern, cloud-based patch automation systems are a departure from their on-premise counterparts and change the way patch automation is utilized. Cloud-based solutions including Automox remove the need for ongoing maintenance of the patch automation system itself. Automox also adds several layers of control that result in a solution which can seamlessly integrate with company’s unique internal patching process.

Patches can be classified by their level of priority, rules can be set dictating what systems can be automatically patched and which require admin approval, and reports demonstrating patch status across a network can quickly be generated. Security teams can test patches in their existing testbed, and once vetted, benefit from an automated workflow for deployment to production.

Advanced automated patch management solutions also reduce the chance that devices will be left unpatched if a patch fails to apply. Automated solutions validate that patches have been applied across all devices, re-apply failed patches, and provide detailed system data if further errors are encountered.

Today’s automated solutions remove a majority of human effort required to maintain a patched environment. The ability to control the degree of automation has removed the risk factor associated with automated patch management.

To see what automation control looks like for for yourself, sign up for a free trial of Automox, no credit card required. And if you have questions about how patch automation can support your existing environment, please contact us.

[1]  https://www.techworm.net/2017/06/microsoft-accidentally-releases-faulty-windows-10-internal-build-16212-which-bricks-pc-laptops.html
Holly Hamann, CMO

Author Holly Hamann, CMO

Holly Hamann serves as Automox's Chief Marketing Officer and is an entrepreneur and start-up veteran. She has helped launch six tech companies in the social media, content, video, and marketing software industries and specializes in SaaS software marketing, content marketing, and influencer marketing. She is an American Marketing Association "Marketer of the Year" recipient and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.

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