10 Simple Steps to Help Improve Your Patch Management

While solutions are being developed to support critical infrastructures to be more efficient, cyber-criminal organizations are continuously exploring new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in systems and applications. The biggest challenge that information security professionals face today is their inability to keep up with such demand in a speedy and consistent manner. Patch management is one of the most challenging tasks to execute in today’s dynamic environments. Although for many years IT professionals have tried to develop processes and procedures to apply fixes to systems and applications, it is without a doubt a challenge.

Many companies have opted to have dedicated resources to identify defects, weakness, and security vulnerabilities in order to proactively create fixes, updates, and patches to remediate any vulnerability on their systems. Other companies have implemented bounty programs to encourage people to find and report vulnerabilities in exchange for payment. Companies like Microsoft release monthly security updates and have even automated the patch process, which may work for ordinary consumers, but not necessarily for enterprise customers. As vulnerabilities continue to grow and threats continue to rise, manual patching is no longer effective and efficient.

But no matter how companies decide to fix their vulnerabilities, the truth is systematic patching is not an easy task due to the complexity of the enterprise networks supporting an organization. Therefore, having a well-documented patch management process helps support a strong security program.

The success of the program depends on the development of a strategic plan, having support from all the involved parties, and executing in a consistent manner to proactively reduce the severity and impact of possible attacks. Patch and vulnerability management hasn’t been simple. In fact, many organizations think about patch management as an inconvenience to operations. But there are ways that could help in developing a strong patch management program and managing the risk and impact.

The following are 10 simple steps that can help you improve your Patch Management program:

  1. Develop Patch Management policies and procedures: Choose an industry standard, such as ISO-2700x and NIST, and understand your regulatory compliance requirements, i.e., HIPAA, GLBA, and PCI DSS.
  2. Update your asset inventory, including Operating Systems types, versions, and make sure to include all thirds party systems and applications.
  3. Run a vulnerability scan to create a baseline: Use the National Vulnerability Database and the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) as a point of reference.
  4. Create a Patch and Vulnerability Management committee: The committee will help with the review, assess, and classification of vulnerabilities by criticality
  5. Test – all patches must be tested before they are deployed in your production environment(s).
  6. Develop a patch cycle starting with the most critical and high risk vulnerabilities, and have a plan to address medium and low vulnerabilities.
  7. Deploy enterprise patch management tools using a phased approach (consider using automated solutions).
  8. Run periodic (monthly) validation vulnerability scans.
  9. Develop a Remediation Database: documentation is valuable for auditing purposes.
  10.   Measure the effectiveness of the patch and vulnerability management program and make changes as needed.

Industry standards, like the ISO 27002, states that an “organization should define and establish the roles and responsibilities associated with technical vulnerability management, including vulnerability monitoring, vulnerability risk assessment, patching, asset tracking and any coordination responsibilities.” As a result, developing a sound patch management program could be an overwhelming task, as it requires support, resources, and time. Partnering with a security solutions service provider will help you choose the proper tool(s) and develop a tactical plan for developing and implementing, and/or enhancing your patch management program, which will help strengthen your organization’s security posture.

References:

Special Publication 800-40 v2.0 Creating a Patch and Vulnerability Management Program, and Special Publication 800-40 v3 Guide to Enterprise Patch Management Technologies.

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