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6-Step Patch Management Process

August 23, 2022

By Peter Barnett

Patch management is often a complicated process because many organizations use proprietary software. The lack of enough staff members and strict legal requirements also negatively impact patch management. As a result, organizations need a multi-staged approach to streamline their server patch management process.

Here is a six-step patching policy template that you should know.

What Is Patch Management?

Patches are an essential part of an organization’s IT process. Software vendors regularly examine their software to identify vulnerabilities. When they find a security hole, they develop a software patch to fix the problem.

The patch also resolves any functionality problems and may add some new features. You can download the patch in object module form or as a binary file from the vendor’s website. Some vendors may provide additional software to help in installing the patch.

The security patch management process involves several things, such as:

  • Identifying patches
  • Deploying patches
  • Reviewing patches

However, difficulties in tracking patch updates and the lack of automated systems complicate the patch management process. At the same time, reviewing, approving, testing, and deploying each patch is time-consuming and confusing. 

Here is a step-by-step patch management plan template.

1. Design a Policy-Based Approach

A policy-based patch management process template can lead to the creation of automated alerts. This means that administrators will only be required to work on a system when a vulnerability is detected. Additionally, the policy should require the automation of patch installation approval. Once administrators automate the approval process, it will be easier to install functional patches.

Your policy-based approach should also emphasize the gathering and storage of all patch information. This information will be from third-party databases, software vendor sites, and other sources. When you automate the handling of patch information, you will reduce the cost of cloud-based patch management.

2. List All Inventory Assets

It would be best to gather an inventory of all desktops, laptops, routers, switches, and storage. Determining the operational efficiency of each IT device and creating a list of non-functioning assets is also part of this process. You can also simplify the process of tracking each asset by using RFID tags, QR codes, or barcodes. Nevertheless, you should remember that some asset tracking tools, such as specialty scanners and RFID labels, can be costly.

Your asset inventory list should include key information, such as data sensitivity, logical network address, and network type and version. If your organization lacks a centralized asset database, you can conduct a vulnerability scanning to acquire more information about assets. Getting information from NAC and DNC servers is a common patch schedule example. It would also help if you created asset naming standards and recorded each asset’s maintenance contract and RMM software licensing.

3. Get Software Vulnerability and Patch Data

Next, you need to make a list of required patches and identify those that are already available. This can be a quick process if you are dealing with popular applications, such as Adobe, Office, Linux, and Windows patch management tools. However, you have to check for regular updates on the vendor’s website if you are dealing with third-party apps.

You can know the status of each security component by researching existing patches. This can be a difficult task for organizations that use hundreds of third-party applications. As a result, you may have to centralize your security patch management tools. Once a software vendor releases a new patch, the centralized tools will automatically update the software.

While the availability of the patches is key to the patch management procedure, you still need to create an effective vulnerability detection system. The detection system can incorporate traditional scan-based tools, but this may expose your IT assets to cyber attacks. A patching procedure that identifies vulnerabilities on endpoints can be ideal because it won’t require costly hardware installation.

4. Test

The next step is to establish an affordable patch testing process. Although functional testing is cheap, you may look into other patch test processes. This is because patch defaults either have no impact on applications or cause the applications to fail.

Consequently, you need a testing process that focuses on software integrations and enterprise-wide sanity tests. The selected testing solution should produce a list of business processes, integrations, and applications. Since you want to guarantee application coexistence, the testing process must identify patches that cause app conflicts.

Successful patch testing requires a lab test environment that closely resembles the actual production environment. As a result, you need to identify the gaps between the two domains and determine how you will handle the gaps. The gaps will dictate whether you will choose manual or automated patch management tools.

5. Set Up Configuration Management (CM)

After you have identified and tested all patches, you will need to create a configuration management system. This system will create consistency between your logical and physical assets across the operational environment. A patch management plan example is a system that identifies, tracks, and records the configuration of each IT asset.

A CM system can identify configuration changes and create timely alerts because it knows the optimal configuration state of each IT asset. The configuration changes can then be tracked to know the impact of one IT asset on another. Similarly, a configuration management system can streamline your organization’s data protection and compliance efforts.

A CM system usually comes in the form of software, but it can also be a standardized framework. Regardless, the CM must have a storage component, such as ITIL v3. In addition, there should be supporting data repositories to validate the CM’s contents.

6. Roll Out the Patches

You need to roll out the patches based on complexity and importance. The rollout can be done on a regular, rapid, or emergency basis. While the regular rollout can be scheduled to happen at a predetermined time, the emergency and rapid rollout happen when there is an urgent need.

Final Words

Most software programs need regular updates to fix security vulnerabilities, resolve functionality issues, and add new features. The updates typically come in the form of patches. You can contact us for more information about the patch management system.

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