March 7, 2019

Why patch management is critical for your cyber security strategy

Old software is bad, and you should upgrade immediately. Or, at least that’s how software developers tend to put it. After all, they want your money. However, there’s a little more to software upgrades than selling more products.

Business technology comes with a finite life cycle after which it’s no longer economical for developers to support. Before that happens though, developers will release regular updates called “patches” for their products to add new features, fix bugs, and resolve potential security vulnerabilities.

These patches are software updates designed primarily to repair problems. Their scope varies from minor fixes to addressing specific issues to large service packs. Microsoft, for example, releases new fixes and patches weekly and major updates twice per year for Windows 10. Like Windows, a lot of software is kept up to date automatically by default, since patches are necessary for keeping any machine running reliably and securely.  

What is patch management?

Although modern operating systems generally do a good job of keeping themselves up to date, the average computer runs dozens, if not hundreds of additional applications. Servers often have orders of magnitude more. When your infrastructure consists of an ever-growing network of computers, storage devices, virtual desktops, and other resources, it fast becomes almost impossible to manage updates manually.

Patch management solutions are centralized dashboards that give IT administrators full visibility into the update status of their software and devices. These solutions control the detection of version numbers and the downloading and installation of patches. A good patch management system should cover operating system patches, as well as those from any third parties like Adobe, Java, and Office.

Proactively protecting your business

Any responsible software developer or hardware manufacturer will release a patch as soon as possible after discovering a potential vulnerability in one of their products. For example, many manufacturers of broadband routers released firmware updates to address the as-yet unexploited vulnerability known as the KRACK attack. Urgent patches are often released as soon as they’re ready, while non-critical updates tend to be released according to a prearranged timetable, such as Microsoft’s “Patch Tuesday” schedule.

Since patch management automates the process of downloading and installing patches, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing your systems are proactively supported against both new and unknown threats. In fact, that’s why Microsoft made critical security updates mandatory for any machine connected to the internet.

Understanding support life cycles

Most software and hardware products are released according to a predefined support life cycle, although some products offer extended support for business customers. Once their support life cycle expires, the original developer will no longer release updates for it, including critical security updates.

Any products that are past their support life cycles should be abandoned as soon as possible for the sake of security. For example, mainstream support for the current edition of Windows 10 expires in October 2020, while extended support lasts a further five5 years. Extended support only offers critical security updates, while mainstream support also includes feature updates.

It’s especially important that IT administrators remain fully aware of the support life cycles of any technology products used in the organization. Aside from operating systems themselves, there’s also third-party software to think about, and the firmware that runs on hardware such as routers, IoT devices, physical firewalls, and zero clients. Patch -management can help technicians keep track of version numbers and update statuses to determine whether or not the product is secure and still supported by its manufacturer.

Frontline provides worry-free IT solutions to organizations in Los Angeles. We can take care of IT management to proactively close any potential security holes while empowering businesses with greater technology reliability and performance. Call us today  to schedule your first audit.

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