Patch Management Best Practices: Critical Elements to Consider

What is Patch Management Best Practice?

Patch management is the process where IT Managers identify and apply software or system patches to all corporate endpoints when new patches or updates become available. Patch management best practices refer to the process and tasks that align with a proven ability to reduce corporate exposure to cyber threats.

Patch management is essential for minimizing your attack surface and keeping your cybersecurity game on point. Even so, many organizations struggle to keep up with patch management best practices. Whether it's on-premise complexity, dark endpoints or plain old patch procrastination that's hindering your patching process, there is no shortage of solutions that can help your organization improve its patching strategy.

There are many aspects to good patch management, but time to patch is a leading concern for organizations of every size. While many enterprises think they are taking a reasonable risk by delaying patching, the latest estimates suggest that it takes attackers an average of just seven days to weaponize a critical vulnerability. And that's not including zero-day vulnerabilities, which are already weaponized at the time of disclosure.

And yet, the average time it takes an organization to patch for a critical vulnerability currently sits at around 102 days. This is one of the largest discrepancies seen in patch management. Even CIOs and CISOs admit to delaying patches, just for the sake of convenience. Data breaches can be costly, and unpatched vulnerabilities are a primary target for attackers.

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In order for a patch management strategy to be effective, it must also be taken seriously. With a modern approach to patching, your organization can maintain best practices while also simplifying the entire process of patch deployment. Patching best practices aren't just critical to good patch management, they're an integral part of your organization's overall cyber hygiene.

Endpoint Visibility is Key

When it comes to following best practices for patch management, having full visibility across all endpoints is crucial. Think about it: If your organization doesn't have full inventory (and visibility) of all its devices, how can you ensure everything is getting patched properly?

Protecting endpoints may not have been much of a priority in years past, but the digital landscape has changed dramatically in the last ten years – and it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Patch management strategies need to keep up with modern technology. And today, that means endpoints.

In 2016, researchers found that 70 percent of data breaches originate on an endpoint. Estimates also suggest that around 60 percent of data breaches are linked to unpatched vulnerabilities. Unpatched endpoints are a clear security threat for organizations of any size – yet endpoint visibility remains a persistent problem for many IT professionals. Endpoint security necessitates endpoint visibility; if you can't see the endpoint, you can't protect it.

Using the right patch management tool can provide IT teams with the control they need over your entire network – including all your endpoints, no matter where they're located. With a cloud-native solution like Automox, users can see every endpoint on their network, deploy patches and remediate vulnerabilities in real-time. Having a clear view of your entire network will enable your team to prioritize the patches important to your network more efficiently – and ensure those patches are deployed successfully to every endpoint.

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Time is Crucial to Good Patch Management

The time to patch is nearly 15 times higher than the time it takes for attackers to weaponize a vulnerability. This means that while your IT staff are working on a patch, attackers could be working on exploiting your network.  In fact, an estimated one-in-three data breaches is caused by an unpatched vulnerability.

Even experts admit to leaving vulnerabilities susceptible to exploitation for weeks on end, which means their organizations are vulnerable to attack for far too long. Speed is a critical element of patch management; it doesn't take long for a vulnerability to become an entry point for malicious actors. Even the Department of Defense reportedly lists patching in a timely manner as their top concern for patch management best practices.

Many organizations delay patching, believing that their firewall and antivirus software will protect them against malicious activity. While these technologies do have their uses, attackers are far more savvy today than they were in 1995, and there are plenty of ways to get around a firewall in the 21st century. Patching is critical to minimizing your attack surface – and timely patching is integral to that process.

If you're not patching regularly, and you're not able to keep track of what's been patched and what hasn't, your patch management is never going to be able to function at its best. Time is a crucial element to securing your network; malicious actors can weaponize a vulnerability in one week – while most organizations' time to patch is over three months.

Staying ahead of malicious actors, and on top of your patch management, means implementing patches in a timely manner. With a solution like Automox, users can remediate critical vulnerabilities within 72 hours, and tackle zero-days within 24 hours. The 24/72 threshold is a far cry from the 102-day snail pace that most organizations are reckoning with, but with the right tools, anything is possible – including a three-day patching window.

Patch 3rd Party Applications

Most patching efforts focus on operating systems from Microsoft, Apple and Linux – but 3rd party applications, like Java or Adobe, actually make up a  much larger percentage of vulnerabilities. Estimates suggest that over 75 percent of the vulnerabilities found on the average PC stem from 3rd party applications. Some research even suggests that Java is the “single biggest risk to U.S. computers” because of its high market share and low patch rate. This makes it extremely attractive to malicious actors: It's widely used and rarely patched, so there's a better chance of successful exploitation.

Ignoring patches for 3rd party applications is not unheard of; legacy on-premise solutions like WSUS make the process of patching 3rd party applications notoriously difficult. But vulnerabilities are commonly found in popular software, and they are just as critical as the vulnerabilities on your OS.

It's estimated that 3rd party applications are twice as likely to be unpatched as Microsoft applications. This huge variance is driven by the scarcity of solutions that can patch 3rd party applications, as well as multiple OS, from a single dashboard. Legacy solutions have left much to be desired on that front, but modern solutions like cloud-native Automox give users the ability to patch everything on the network, from 3rd party software to remote endpoints, all from the same platform. Patching for 3rd party applications doesn't have to be more difficult than patching for OS.

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Consider Cross-Platform Patch Management

The modern digital landscape is rife with an array of endpoints, operating systems and 3rd party software. It's becoming increasingly common for organizations to have a multitude of applications and OS on their network – and patching for the more complex networks of today can be a real chore if you're relying on legacy patching solutions. Many on-premise legacy solutions are limited in their ability to handle patches for different OS or 3rd party products; your organization may even need multiple patch management solutions just to handle everything on your network. This on-premise complexity can impede your patch management and compromise your cybersecurity efforts.

Cross-platform patch management with a single tool is possible. Cloud-native, cross-platform solutions like Automox can handle patching whatever OS your devices are running, whether it be macOS, Windows or Linux – and ensure your 3rd party applications are getting patched too. By simplifying the process of patching, you can make your patch management strategy far more efficient and effective.

With a single user interface, your organization can stay up-to-date on all the latest patches your network needs – no matter what it is or where it's located. A central platform that can meet your organization's needs for cross-platform patching is extremely helpful when it comes to patch management best practices. Not only does Automox give your organization the ability to patch across all devices, OS and 3rd party applications, it's an automated platform – which can help you stay on track with regular patching, and up-to-date with what's happening on your network. If a patch fails, you'll know about it – and you'll be able to take action to resolve the problem in real-time. A cross-platform patching platform enables you to have access to your entire network from a single source – which makes the entire process of patching more streamlined. The increased visibility and accessibility that comes with cross-platform patching syncs up perfectly with the demands of patch management best practices like patching 3rd party applications and regular, timely patching.

More On Patching Best Practices

There many tenets of patching best practices. In addition to endpoint visibility, quick timing and 3rd party patching, a good patch management protocol requires regular reporting. Experts say that having readily available data on patch status is almost just as important as the act of patching itself. When known threats are on the horizon, IT staff needs to be able to act quickly to assess the potential impact on their network. If patching reports need to be generated manually or through multiple different systems, it can become quite challenging to compile data and determine the network's overall security in an expedient fashion.

With a strong automated patch management platform like Automox, users can create an array of reports with just a few clicks. Conducting regular reports on patch status for every device on your network can help your IT staff improve response time, as well as minimize the attack surface. For an efficient patch management process, you can also consider creating policies that are customized to your organization. For example, some systems may need to be updated more often than others. You may even want to treat some security updates differently than others, depending on what they're for or how critically they're ranked.

Using an automated patch management system can help your organization ensure that the entire process of patching runs smoothly from start to finish. As the world of technology grows more complex, the need for automated solutions becomes more pronounced. Manual patching is far too time-consuming (and soul-destroying) for organizations with complex networks, and many of the legacy patching solutions are simply not up to par.

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Legacy patching platforms like WSUS or SCCM have a reputation for being expensive, difficult to configure and limited in terms of their compatibility with alternate OS and 3rd party applications. The modern digital landscape – with all its endpoints, operating systems and applications – calls for a more relevant, sophisticated solution that meets the needs companies have today. Cloud-native patching platforms like Automox are affordable, streamlined and easily customized to fit the needs of your organization, regardless of its size.

Maintaining patch management best practices is crucial to keeping your network secure, but it doesn't have to be a challenge. While patching “the old fashioned way” may be a burden, there are solutions available today that can help make your patch management strategy more efficient, and more effective.

About Automox Automated Patch Management

Facing growing threats and a rapidly expanding attack surface, understaffed and alert-fatigued organizations need more efficient ways to eliminate their exposure to vulnerabilities. Automox is a modern cyber hygiene platform that closes the aperture of attack by more than 80% with just half the effort of traditional solutions.

Cloud-native and globally available, Automox enforces OS & third-party patch management, security configurations, and custom scripting across Windows, Mac, and Linux from a single intuitive console. IT and SecOps can quickly gain control and share visibility of on-prem, remote and virtual endpoints without the need to deploy costly infrastructure.

Experience modern, cloud-native patch management today with a 15-day free trial of Automox and start recapturing more than half the time you're currently spending on managing your attack surface. Automox dramatically reduces corporate risk while raising operational efficiency to deliver best-in-class security outcomes, faster and with fewer resources.