LUTZ BUSINESS INSIGHTS
System security patching: what is it & why is it important?
KRIS RUTZ, SENIOR PROJECT ENGINEER
Security patches are perhaps the single most important digital security tool that every IT user needs, right up there with scanning filters and anti-virus software. In fact, 60% of all breaches in 2019 involved unpatched vulnerabilities. So, if you’re thinking about putting off updating your software or clicking that “Remind me later” button, think again. The sooner you update all your software systems, the better you can keep your information secure.
So, what exactly is system security patching, and why is it important? Here’s what to know.
What Is System Security Patching, Exactly?
To understand system security patches, you’ll first need to understand what a security patch is. A security patch is simply a piece of code deployed to a device to fix, upgrade, or update the device’s software programs. It is essentially a bandage for vulnerable computer software.
Much like humans, no software or operating system is perfect. That’s why any given software typically has many security patches released over its lifetime. Choosing not to update your software means that you’re leaving security holes for hackers to exploit, holes that a security patch would otherwise have filled.
System security patching, better known as patch management, is the process of distributing and applying patches to an already-existing software. At its core, patch management allows you to acquire, test, and roll out multiple code changes to administered computer systems to keep them updated and threat-free.
Effective patching is all about reacting in good time. By swiftly deploying all of the necessary security patches, you can reduce the likelihood of data breaches.
Why Is System Security Patching Important?
1. Patches Help You Fix Security Vulnerabilities
Most security patches will come with a detailed breakdown of what the security concern is, what impact it can have on your business, its severity, and how it can be exploited by a potential hacker. Ignoring such an update can compromise the security of your data and devices.
Hackers typically use malware, short for malicious software, to exploit a security loophole. At the very least, the malware allows the hacker to gain control over sensitive customer or business files. Worse still, it can lead to permanent loss of crucial data or total system shutdown. To keep out hackers, deploy security patches early and often.
2. Patches Help You Attain Maximum Productivity
A patched system is an efficient one, as it allows you to reduce downtime and get the most out of your programs. A single security patch can lead to a substantial boost in network productivity, and an entire patch management system can transform the efficiency of your entire organization.
3. Patches Supply You with Feature Improvements
System security patching typically goes beyond fixing bugs to include new features or functional improvements. In other words, patching can provide you with the latest and greatest that a software product has to offer. It’s you who benefits from the upshot in performance or speed. Ignoring those “update now” reminders means that you’re putting you last.
4. Patches Help Protect Your Data
In today’s data-driven world, data breaches can affect many users at once. The August 2013 attack on Yahoo, for instance, affected over 3 billion user accounts. Your company may not have as many users, but that doesn’t mean the repercussions of a data breach will be less devastating. You may lose critical customer data, incur financial losses, or worse, suffer long-term reputational damage.
All this can be avoided if you treat patching as an important piece of your defense system and not a one-off activity. Deploying security patches in a timely fashion ensures that your data is safe from hackers and other malicious actors.
5. Patches Help You Meet Compliance Requirements
Data breaches happen almost daily. In 2020, a whopping 37 billion records were compromised through data breaches. As a result, more and more regulations are being introduced to compel companies to follow security best practices.
Financial services, healthcare sectors, and government entities are among the most regulated. However, other industries are quickly catching up and forming their own security compliance guidelines. These rules include HIPPA, PCI DSS, SOX, and CCPA. Failure to comply could result in hefty fines for your business. Just recently, Equifax was hit with a $575 million fine for its 2017 breach. Proper system security patching ensures you stay within compliance regulations and avoid legal penalties.
System Security Patching Best Practices
1. Maintain a Consolidated, Up-to-Date Software Inventory
Create a database of all IT assets in your organization. Keep them organized according to device type, operating system, hardware, and third-party applications. Once you have a clear picture of what you have, you’ll be able to compare the known vulnerabilities to your inventory to figure out which patches to tackle first.
2. Formulate a Well-Defined Patch Management Policy
Avoid haphazardly deploying patches. Rather, create a patch policy that works specifically for your IT ecosystem. This documented policy will include a series of well-defined steps and procedures to manage and mitigate vulnerabilities in your environment. It will act as a reference point for your IT team whenever they’re deploying new patches or fighting security threats.
3. Prioritize Security Patches
Size up the specific potential risks that vulnerabilities pose to your critical IT assets based on:
- Ease of exploiting the vulnerability
- Number of devices reported with the vulnerability and subsequent business impact
- Active exploitation of the vulnerability right now
- Number of days the vulnerability has remained unpatched
Once you have this information, you’ll know which patches to deploy first. Ultimately, you’ll find the true risk to your company’s IT infrastructure.
4. Test Your Patches Before Roll-Out
To avoid being caught unaware by new and emerging threats, test your patches before deploying them. The best way to go about this is first to determine your assets’ criticality level. Once you have this information, go ahead and replicate testing environments through virtualization. Finally, plan a maintenance window well in advance, perhaps a few weeks before the main roll-out. This goes a long way in eliminating an unexpected reboot that could interfere with key business operations.
Want to keep your software systems secure and running smoothly? At Lutz Tech, we provide a wide range of smart technology solutions to help you stay on top of existing and emerging cyber security risks. Contact us if you have any questions or learn more about our services here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KRIS RUTZ + SENIOR PROJECT ENGINEER
Kris Rutz is a Senior Project Engineer at Lutz Tech with over seven years of experience in the technology industry. He is responsible for assisting outsourced IT clients with technology infrastructure enhancements.
AREAS OF FOCUS
- Outsourced IT
- Technology Infrastructure
- Disaster Recovery
- Backup Management
- Lutz Tech New Hire Training
AFFILIATIONS AND CREDENTIALS
- Microsoft Azure214X: Azure Fundamentals
- BA in Technical Theatre/Theatre Design and Technology, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA
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