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Six Tips to Ensure a Strong Patch Management Strategy

Six Tips to Ensure a Strong Patch Management Strategy

By Ashley Leonard, CEO and Founder, Syxsense

The proliferation of software applications and updates across the market today has put pressure on enterprise security teams to implement strong patch management strategies in defense against known and unknown threats. In 2022, ethical hackers found over 65,000 new software vulnerabilities, which makes sense in the context of reports that 43 percent of IT and security teams are unable to secure devices at speed and scale. Yet the stakes are simply too high for organizations to forgo patching vulnerabilities, with or without having a dedicated patch management solution in place. Let’s dive into some helpful tips to ensure your organization bolsters its security posture and protects its endpoints effectively.

Implement Proper Access Rights

It has become a common practice for organizations to grant employees admin rights, leaving crucial vulnerability patching activities to them. This almost guarantees some level of human error when it comes to patching.  IT teams should never trust end-users with patching. Instead, IT teams should follow strict patch management protocols informed by exclusive access policies that restrict users to installing specific applications only after entering their password and block them from installing potentially dangerous software.

Prioritize Patch and Vulnerability Risk

The volume of patches, vulnerabilities, and potential threats can quickly become overwhelming for enterprise IT teams, so it’s important to rank patches and vulnerabilities by risk level. To do so, examine the severity ratings for each patch or vulnerability, then assess your environment to understand how exposure could affect your system. If there’s a critical vulnerability on one machine in an enterprise environment of 10,000 devices, the risk is different than if you had that same critical vulnerability on 5,000 of your 10,000 devices. Once you’ve prioritized, focus on applying the most critical updates first.

Don’t Rely on “Free” Patching Services

Despite what many users may think, “free” patch tools don’t provide all the security needed to safeguard against vulnerabilities. Strictly speaking, many don’t offer the reporting needed to guarantee that systems are fully protected. Instead, for instance, they might concentrate on supplying system-specific patches, neglecting other apps (for everything from browsers to business software) that might run on your system. Furthermore, these tools often require coding expertise or integrations to other solutions to actually close up security holes. The total cost of ownership on “free” patching tools, in fact, is generally fairly high. There’s a simple fix for this. Invest in solutions offering cross-platform support, reliable third-party patching, and the necessary reporting capabilities to substantiate comprehensive patching coverage.

Never Delay Patching

For patching to be most effective, it needs to be continuous. No software is ever fully protected against bugs. Organizations know this and prioritize patch releases. Nonetheless, the majority of security incidents involve vulnerabilities IT teams haven’t gotten around to patching yet. A recent survey reported that 78% of IT teams don’t patch critical vulnerabilities within 24 hours – enough time for a threat actor to wreak havoc on a system.

Delayed patching can lead to catastrophe. The Equifax breach in 2017, which exposed 143 million users’ personal information, was a consequence of a vulnerability going unpatched for 76 days. Considering that Microsoft deploys patches every month, that’s almost three months of ignored patch updates. Organizations that delay patching put employees, partners, and their brands at risk. To be safe, IT teams should automate the patching process to ensure all patches are updated promptly.

Don’t Allow Vendors to Auto-Update

Most operating systems and third-party applications run their own auto-updates. At first glance this is great, however users may not be able to install these updates if their devices are locked down, a practice many IT teams do to make sure updates don’t break critical business applications. Additionally, automatic updates can create a false sense of security and often interrupt productivity if triggered during the workday. Instead, IT teams should create their own update schedule and work against their patch management best practices to quickly evaluate new patch releases, test them, and release them into the workflow with the help of automated tools.

Look at the Big Picture

What is considered a risk for the most protected security environments changes daily. For example, WSUS doesn’t protect Linux devices and applications running on Java may still be open for attack. A vulnerability in the much-used Google Chrome can provide hackers a way into your company’s networks. Do you know what’s been updated? Are you sure? It is crucial to stay current on what’s happening in your environment, yet the required certainty can be frustratingly elusive. The key is to ensure that you have a patch strategy and protocols in place – and the visibility to assess new threats and make sure updates are happening as needed.

Patch management will continue to evolve alongside the growing number of devices to protect. Sadly, so will the tactics and approaches that cyber criminals use to encroach on your organization’s endpoints. Leveraging these tips is one way to ensure that you’re prepared for what’s next, but the onus is on you to make sure you’re not left behind in this fast-paced environment.

About the Author

Six Tips to Ensure a Strong Patch Management StrategyAshley Leonard is the CEO and Founder of Syxsense—a global leader in Unified Security and Endpoint Management (USEM). Ashley is a technology entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in enterprise software, sales, marketing, and operations, providing critical leadership during the high-growth stages of well-known technology organizations.

Ashley manages U.S., European, and Australian operations in his current role, defines corporate strategies, oversees sales and marketing, and guides product development. Ashley has worked tirelessly to build a robust, innovation-driven culture within the Syxsense team while delivering returns to investors.

Ashley has founded several successful technology companies, including NetworkD Inc., with operations in 7 countries. NetworkD made several strategic international acquisitions and then completed a successful exit to Sparxent in 2008. In 2012 he founded Verismic Software and launched Syxsense in 2019.

Ashley can be reached online at the Syxsense company website

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