According to a recent study, more than 60% of small businesses get hacked every year. Every day, hackers are finding new ways to break into computer systems. With that said, it’s important that your small business has proper network security in place to mitigate the risk of a data breach and to maintain small business continuity.
While patch management is often overlooked by small businesses, it is an important security practice for businesses of all sizes. In this post, we’ll outline the basics of patch management, discuss why it’s important for your small business, and share tips to make patch management simple and effective.
What Is Patch Management?
To understand patch management, it’s important to understand what a patch is. A patch is a small piece of code that helps improve a program that’s already installed on your system. In other words, it’s like a security bandage for your computer software. Once an issue is discovered in a program that’s already been released, a patch is created to fix the error. This allows the issue to be resolved without recreating the program altogether.
Patches can be applied to almost every area of your infrastructure, from operating systems to office software. With that said, there are a large number of patches required to keep all of your system and software up to date, and keeping track of these patches can be difficult and time intensive.
Patch management, as the name suggests, helps you manage the patches more effectively and efficiently. In patch management, a person or device searches for patches, determines if they’re needed, and ensures that they’re installed and implemented smoothly. This helps reduce the likelihood of system crashes and cyber security breaches.
In most large companies, the IT staff will handle patch management. As a small business, you may not have extensive IT resources. If this is the case for you, consider the following patch management best practices to make the process simple and efficient.
1. Inventory Your Systems
Conducting a comprehensive inventory of all software and hardware within your work environment is an important first step. Once you have a clear understanding, you can assess any known vulnerabilities to your inventory to quickly determine which patches matter to you.
2. Assign Risk Levels to Your Systems
Prioritizing is important to all aspects of managing a small business. It’s equally important to patch management. Take time to assign risk levels to each item in your inventory and prioritize them accordingly. If an item is more exposed, it should be patched faster. For instance, a server in your network that’s inaccessible from the Internet should not be as high of a priority to patch as a laptop used by your sales team.
3. Consolidate Software Versions (and Software Itself)
Having multiple versions of software creates higher risk and more administrative work. Choose just one version of any given software and make sure that it’s up to date with patches. Take some time to review all of your software and how you’re using it. If you find that you no longer are using a piece of software, go ahead and delete it. Having fewer software products means you’ll have fewer patches to manage.
4. Test Patches Before Applying Everywhere
Each environment is unique, so it’s important to test patches before applying them to your entire system. You can apply a patch to a small subset of your system to ensure there are no major problems. Once you determine there are no issues with that small subset, you can apply the patch to larger and larger groups until the full system has been patched.
5. Apply Application Patches as Quickly as Possible
Make sure that all of your own applications are protected. If you discover security vulnerabilities within your custom code, you should treat these with the same level of importance as any vendor patches.
6. Automate Open Source Patching
Open source components help development teams create software more efficiently. However, open source libraries are susceptible to the same risks as other software. As more open source libraries have appeared over the past few years, the number of vulnerabilities in these libraries have increased.
Automation is critical to saving time and understanding which versions are vulnerable while keeping a solid inventory of open source tools in use. There are many automated tools available, such as WhiteSource Remediate, that know which libraries are in use and will automatically flag them if updates need to be made when it detects an unsafe version in use. Automated patching reduces the risk of vulnerabilities while helping you save time and money.
Follow these best practices to protect your place of work and ensure that you maintain small business continuity.