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The Ultimate Patch Management Policy Checklist

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, IT security has never been more crucial for businesses of all sizes. With cyber threats lurking around every corner, a proactive and comprehensive approach to safeguarding your systems is essential.

Enter the ultimate patch management policy checklist, your key to fortifying your organisation’s digital defences. This indispensable resource is designed to guide you through the critical steps in implementing an effective patch management strategy, ensuring your systems are up-to-date, secure, and protected from the latest vulnerabilities.

What is patch management?

Patch management is a critical component of any organisation’s IT security strategy, as it involves the process of identifying, acquiring, installing, and verifying updates for software applications, operating systems, and other critical systems. These updates, known as patches, are essential for fixing security vulnerabilities, enhancing functionality, and ensuring stability in your IT infrastructure.

Failing to patch software regularly can lead to malicious actors targeting those vulnerabilities. The WannaCry cyber-attack of 2017, for example, targeted an unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, affecting users in over 150 countries.

Patch management policy checklist

1. Create an IT asset inventory

An IT asset inventory is a detailed list of all the hardware, software, and network components in your organisation. This list should include information about the manufacturer, model, version, and location of each asset, as well as any relevant licensing and support details.

Having a complete and up-to-date inventory helps you identify potential vulnerabilities, prioritise patches, and ensure that all assets are adequately protected.

2. Update and synchronise patch database

A patch database is a repository of all the available updates, security patches, and hotfixes for your organisation’s software, operating systems, and firmware. By regularly updating and synchronising your patch database, you can ensure that your IT infrastructure remains protected against the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

3. Prioritise patches

Prioritising patches involves determining which updates should be installed first, based on factors such as the severity of the vulnerability, the criticality of the affected asset, and the potential impact on your organisation’s operations.

Use a risk-based approach to prioritise patches, taking into account factors such as the likelihood of exploitation, the potential damage caused by a successful attack, and the ease of implementing the patch. This will help you focus on the most critical updates.

4. Create exclude patch policy

While most patches are essential for maintaining a secure IT environment, there may be instances where certain patches are not necessary or even detrimental to your organisation’s operations. This can occur due to compatibility issues, performance problems, or conflicts with other software or hardware components. In such cases, it’s essential to create an exclude patch policy that outlines the criteria for excluding specific patches from your patch management process.

Develop clear criteria for excluding patches, such as known compatibility issues, performance impacts, or conflicts with other applications or hardware components.

Next, establish a formal process for reviewing and approving excluded patches, involving key stakeholders such as IT managers, security teams, and application owners to ensure that all relevant parties are involved in the decision-making process, and excluded patches are appropriately documented and justified.

5. Test patches before deployment

Before deploying patches across your organisation’s IT infrastructure, it’s essential to test them to ensure they don’t introduce new issues or conflicts. Patch testing involves installing and evaluating a patch in a controlled environment, such as a testing or staging environment, before rolling it out to production systems.

Establish a dedicated testing environment that closely mirrors your production environment, including hardware, software, and network configurations, and develop a patch testing plan that outlines the objectives, scope, and test cases for each patch.

Finally, document the results of your patch testing, including any identified issues, conflicts, or performance impacts.

6. Schedule patch deployment

Scheduling patch deployment is essential for minimising disruption to your business operations, ensuring timely protection against vulnerabilities, and maintaining compliance with industry regulations and standards.

A regular patch deployment schedule needs to align with your organisation’s operational requirements and risk tolerance to ensure that your IT assets are updated with the latest patches in a timely and efficient manner.

Make sure to communicate your patch deployment schedule to relevant stakeholders, such as IT managers, security teams, and end-users.

7. Monitor patching statuses

Monitoring patching statuses involves tracking the progress of patch deployment, identifying any failed installations or issues, and remediating any problems that arise during the patch management process.

Implementing a patch management solution will provide real-time visibility into the status of your deployed patches, including successful installations, failed attempts, and pending updates. This can help you identify and address issues promptly, minimising the risk to your organisation.

8. Generate patch compliance reports

Patch compliance reports provide an overview of your organisation’s patch management process, including the status of deployed patches, the effectiveness of your patch deployment strategy, and any gaps or vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

Develop a patch compliance reporting framework that includes key performance indicators (KPIs), such as patch deployment success rates, patch coverage, and vulnerability remediation rates. This will help you measure the effectiveness of your patch management process and identify areas for improvement.

9. Automate patch management

Automation can streamline the patch management process, reduce the risk of human error, and help you stay ahead of the ever-evolving threat landscape. Patch management automation involves using tools and technologies to discover, prioritise, deploy, and monitor patches across your organisation’s IT assets.

Implementing an automated patch management tool that can scan, download, and deploy patches automatically will reduce the manual effort required to manage your IT infrastructure.

Create your patch management policy with expert assistance

By developing and implementing a robust patch management policy, you can ensure that your IT infrastructure remains secure and up-to-date, protecting your organisation from the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

The cyber security specialists at Steadfast Solutions can create and manage your patch policy checklist to ensure nothing is forgotten. Talk to them today and find out more.