Do you know whether your company has a robust patch management program to protect it from vulnerabilities and system outages?
Widespread cybersecurity attacks across the business world have left company leaders asking, “What else can we do to protect ourselves?”
Most companies already have – or should have – programs in place to protect against cybersecurity threats and vulnerability exploitation campaigns. That’s especially true if your company has customer data and customer-facing systems.
Most companies also have processes to quickly deploy critical security patches released from vendors to address an exploited vulnerability.
But what about non-critical, routine patches that are periodically released from vendors as part of routine maintenance? This is where most organizations struggle.
Make sure your company has a plan to update your technology assets with routine patches, too. These patches can include security and functionality updates that address problems in your operating system and firmware. Failure to deploy patches on a systematic basis can not only lead to vulnerability exploitations, but out-of-date components can lead to significant system outages and availability issues.
Establish a Patch Management Program
To safeguard your company from any issues, establish a framework for patch management, which is the process of identifying, publishing, testing, certifying and deploying patches for products and systems. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides guidance on enterprise patch management called “Guide to Enterprise Patch Management Technologies.”
Your patch management program should include the following components and activities:
- Vulnerability Identification and Scanning – Monitor for vulnerabilities and scans to verify remediation
- Vulnerability Remediation – Maintain an accurate system inventory, create a remediation database, conduct remediation testing, and prioritize remediations
- Deployment of Remediation and Patches – Configure automated updates, if possible, deployment patches and remediation across all systems based on patch release schedule
This framework ensures you are systematically scanning your inventory to make sure all instances are patched in accordance with vendor releases and internal patching policies.
Adopt Patch Management as Core Business Function
While many companies have already embedded routine patching as part of their core IT functions, the virtues of patch management needs to be adopted across the entire organization as an important measure of protecting systems. It is critical that IT infrastructure departments collaborate with the business side to ensure that routine patching is prioritized and deployed efficiently to minimize any disruption in operation.
To adopt patching compliance across the organization that protects your company from cybersecurity attacks, implement a strategy that includes governance, oversight and reporting.
Just like any other company-wide program, patch management should include a well-defined governance and oversight structure. This structure will also provide oversight of patch management to ensure all areas of the organization comply with policies and processes. Governance and oversight is a necessary component to make sure patching is prioritized and routinely executed routinely across the organization.
An effective governance framework for patch management should:
- Have clear objectives, roles and responsibilities, and policies as well as provide overall governance of the patch program’s people, process and technology dimensions
- Establish accountability for patching across the business that clearly outlines consequences for not adhering to patching policy
- Enforce patching by using system built tools and guidelines
- Consider forced patching in extreme cases for systems with significantly outdated versions
One of the barriers to patching is not having readily available patching compliance data. In many cases, organizations do not have an accurate inventory of systems and versions, and therefore do not have a complete picture of what systems are in need of patching.
Ensure you have accurate system inventory data as part of your patch management program. System inventory data is a key component to compliance metrics and reporting. Patch management compliance metrics should be reported frequently and consistently. They should also be incorporated into a management level dashboard. Reporting on patching compliance is another way management can drive accountability and make patching a key component of business viability.
Patch management is largely an IT function with a technology heavy focus. However, technology can only go so far in patching your organization’s systems. In most organizations, patching is dependent on a collaborating between IT and the business.
Having a proactive patch management program focused on routine patching with a clear mandate, defined structure and accountability is vital to making routing patching a priority across the organization. Use technology such as scanning and system built tools along with a program management approach to increase compliance and ultimately reduce the risk of system vulnerability or outages.
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About the Author
Marc Vander Elst is a management consultant with Centric Consulting’s Boston office with over 15 years of experience in strategic planning, process improvement, product and business development, and performance management with a focus in Financial Services and Healthcare.