How often do you postpone a software update? Well, did you know that you might be opening up your business to cyberattackers by ignoring that update? A great example of why you shouldn’t is the deadly WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, which exploited a weakness in the Windows OS and affected anyone who didn’t implement the latest update. To prevent going through the same thing, you should implement an effective patch management strategy. I’ve got you covered!
In this article, I’ll cover what patch management is and why you should take it seriously.
What Is a Software Patch?
Simply put, a software patch refers to one or more changes to software sent by the developers to all users. These patches often add new features or fix known security gaps. Most times, the patches are platform-dependent, so you need to choose the right patch compatible with your OS and software version.
You can download and install software patches manually or with automated tools. But the problem with manual patch management is that you always have to stay on top of patch availability. You also have to check version compatibility and manually install them. This can be time-consuming and ineffective. Also, if your IT admins fail to implement a new patch, it could result in situations similar to the WannaCry attack. This is why automated patch management is a much better option for any business.
What Is Automated Patch Management?
Automated patch management doesn’t require human intervention for monitoring, downloading, and installing patches. Typically, an automated patch management tool starts by checking which devices in your environment need patching. Then, it checks if patches are available; if they are, it automatically downloads and installs them. In essence, automated patch management simplifies the whole process for you.
Before going any further, let’s briefly look at the benefits and pitfalls associated with automated patch management.
Automated Patch Management Benefits
Some of the key benefits that come with using an automated patch management tool include:
- Applies security patches on time, which reduces the likelihood of a cyberattacker exploiting a software’s known vulnerability
- Boosts employee productivity, as no one has to constantly monitor patch availability
- Supports compliance with security standards such as SOC2
- Ensures that your software is always up-to-date no matter what happens
Next up, pitfalls!
Automated Patch Management Pitfalls
Here are some pitfalls to watch out for when using an automated patch management tool:
- Has a chance to conflict with other software in your environment, which can lead to instability or even data loss
- Doesn’t always test patch compatibility with your infrastructure in the case of some automated tools
- Requires extensive configurations upfront
- Requires time and resources for ongoing maintenance
Overall, automated patch management addresses many challenges of manual patch management. However, it’s important to understand the pitfalls and plan accordingly. Choose a solution that can easily help you overcome those pitfalls. Also, remember only to install patches relevant to your business, and this is exactly what we’ll talk about next!
Which Types of Software Patches Are Most Relevant for SMBs?
Broadly speaking, software patches fall into three categories: bug fixes, security patches, and feature patches. Sometimes, third-party developers may also create patches to fix certain issues or introduce new capabilities. You can refer to these as unofficial patches. Let’s go over each of the 4 categories in more detail, starting with bug fixes.
1. Bug Fix Patches
Bug fix patches are patches that fix any known bugs or errors in software. In turn, this will prevent your software from crashing or malfunctioning. A variation of a bug fix patch is the hotfix. Hotfixes typically address a single issue that can’t wait until the next big patch update. From a user standpoint, hotfixes are riskier as they could cause other tools in your infrastructure to crash. This is why you should first evaluate the benefits against the risks before implementing a hotfix. In short, only go for them if they’re necessary.
2. Security Patches
Security patches are the most important kind of patches that you must never ignore, as they rectify a security vulnerability. This relates to the WannaCry attack mentioned earlier. When Microsoft identified a vulnerability in its OS, it immediately released a patch to fix the issue. Individuals or companies that didn’t implement this patch became victims of the WannaCry attack. So, whenever a security patch comes out, download and install it as quickly as possible.
3. Feature Patches
Overall, from a security and working standpoint, feature patches should be your least priority. These patches contain new functionalities and enhancements that can improve user experience, support integration with more tools, etc. Microsoft, for instance, provides new feature patches for Windows 10 and 11 once a year but still releases security patches monthly.
One pitfall to consider here is possible incompatibility with certain tools. This is why you should first test the patches on a few devices before installing them across your entire network. This way, you can make any necessary configuration changes beforehand.
4. Unofficial Patches
As stated earlier, unofficial patches come from third-party sources, not the company that created the software. These patches usually fix bugs or address incompatibility issues in specific tools. They can especially come in handy for software the developer no longer supports. Unofficial patches are your best bet if you want to fix a bug in out-of-support versions like Windows XP.
That said, you should be mindful that these patches come with a price. Specifically, they come with a huge security risk because you don’t know what these patches contain. Some malicious individuals might use unofficial patches to install malware and ransomware on your system. Because of this, it’s best to simply avoid unofficial patches. Instead, go for an upgrade just to be on the safe side.
Software Patches Summary Table
A lot of information to take in, right? Not to fear, I’ve included a convenient table below just for you!
|Type of Patch
|Identifies and fixes bugs
|Medium to high, depending on the nature and impact of the bug
|Possible crash of related tools
|Addresses security vulnerabilities
|Chance of missing out when using manual patch management processes
|Introduces new features
|Incompatibility with other tools
|Comes from third-party sources and not the original developer of the software
|Low, and avoid if possible
|Attackers can use these patches to hide attacks such as malware and ransomware
Besides these main categories, some minor variations of these patches go by different names. For instance, a developer might opt for minor patch releases if it notices many bugs in its software. Here, each release can fix a few bugs. Known as point releases, they can help you roll back quickly when needed and pinpoint the issues correctly. Similarly, a service pack combines many patches into a single installable package. This means that you don’t have to download and install multiple patches.
Alright, so what’s left? Well, we’ve gone over patch management and the types of software patches you might encounter in the wild. Let’s step back a bit and highlight why you even need patches in the first place.
Why Are Patches Important for SMBs?
SMBs are highly vulnerable to even small changes and security incidents. This is why it’s important to go all out and take the necessary precautions to insulate your business as much as possible from external threats. Read on to learn 6 reasons installing a software patch must be essential to your ongoing efforts.
The WannaCry ransomware attack is a classic example of how a lapse in updating an OS software patch led to the closure of many businesses. As this attack demonstrated, you risk opening your networks and devices to attacks when you don’t regularly implement patches. On the other hand, keeping your devices and apps up-to-date can ensure protection and continuity for your business.
2. Loss of Productivity
Simply put, downtimes due to system crashes and failures lead to a loss of productivity. When you run an outdated application, you have a high chance of having an existing bug crash your system. To avoid these costly situations, consider patching your devices regularly.
3. Data Security Issues
As a business, you’re likely to handle and store the sensitive data of your employees and customers. Software vulnerabilities that aren’t patched can open the doors for a data breach. In turn, this can lead to sensitive data theft. This can have serious financial and legal consequences for your business in the long run. Regular patching can save you from these hassles and headaches!
4. Loss of Trust
Data breaches due to unpatched vulnerabilities can cause your customers, suppliers, and vendors to lose trust in your business. After all, patching is a relatively simple task. If your business misses out on this, imagine the message you’ll send to your customer base.
5. Buggy Software
As mentioned before, software patches fix known bugs in your apps. If you don’t install these patches, the bugs’ continued presence can result in severe consequences. To clarify, they can cause systems to crash, open security vulnerabilities, and cause infrastructure instability. Having an effective patch management routine can help you avoid these nuisances!
Patch management is an essential part of proving compliance with security standards. When you don’t install patches as soon as they become available, you risk non-compliance. This could result in having to pay hefty fines to the concerned authorities. Non-compliance can also result in reputation loss in the long run.
We hope this information helps you better secure your devices and avoid the pitfalls of not installing software patches. Before we end, here’s a quick recap!
All in all, patch management is an essential part of your business’s security and operations. Software patches help you fix bugs and close security vulnerabilities identified in any app or device. According to the Ponemon Institute, 57% of cyberattack victims reported that they could’ve avoided an attack if they had installed an available patch. Don’t let this happen to you! Install your patches today with an automated patch management tool.
Do you have more questions about patch management? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!
Do software patches and updates mean the same thing?
Not always, though it’s common to use the terms updates and patches interchangeably. In reality, though, a software patch is a kind of update that addresses a specific security vulnerability. Likewise, “updates” is a broad term that can also include feature enhancements.
Why is an update called a software patch?
In the past, software makers and suppliers used to provide updates on paper tapes and punched cards. As a user, you had to cut the indicated part and include it in the existing tape. Since this amounted to patching a new piece of tape into an existing one, the name continued, despite the many tech advancements in the last few decades.
Do software patch installations require a restart?
Yes, most patches require you to restart the application or even your device in some cases. If you opt for automated patch management tools, they can also handle restarts. These tools can also perform patch management processes during your off-hours, so they don’t affect your productivity.
How can I manually install a patch?
As a first step, check if a patch is available for your application’s version. If one is available, you can download, install, and run it. The installation and execution process can take a few minutes, depending on the patch. You may also have to restart the application, or your device in some cases, for the patching changes to take effect.
What is one important aspect that I should keep in mind during patching?
Patching is essential to protect your systems and business from many cybersecurity incidents. That said, patches can cause an application to malfunction, especially the dependencies of the application you want to patch. Keep this in mind and consider testing the patch on several devices before implementing them across your network.
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