How to Create a Patch Management Policy

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Patching security exploits has nothing to do with pumpkin patches!
SOURCE: Flickr

Every company is bound to face vulnerabilities sooner or later. In these cases, it’s necessary to act fast and patch immediately if you don’t want to be a victim of cyberattacks. Patching enables you to add new software features and functionality, fix broken code, and remediate known exploits. It involves addressing all software used on your network. To streamline the process and free up time in your schedule for other tasks, you can use a patch management policy. 

In this article, we’ll delve into how you can create a patch management policy that effectively covers your needs. First, let’s discuss what a patch management policy is. 

What Is a Patch Management Policy?

Software is never perfect. Sometimes, bugs arise after a release, and you’ll need patching to fix these issues. To make the process easier, you can use a patch management policy to define how to conduct a patch. 

In essence, a patch management policy is a high-level document that helps IT teams manage the software they use on their network and how to update them when the time comes. It includes a set of requirements and guidelines that facilitate managing and mitigating your company’s vulnerabilities. Each policy also defines how a part of your business will run and how it’s enforced 

Policy documentation needs a formalized revision process to ensure you can track and discuss changes. Stakeholders can then efficiently handle the propagation of changes. Where possible, you should use a document management system to handle change management. 

First, let’s take a look at why a patch management policy is important! 

Why Is a Patch Management Policy Important?

Overlooking patching for a system or software gives bad actors an advantage. In this scenario, they’ll be able to use known or unknown exploits to enter your network, run malware, steal information, or more. That’s why it’s important to have a patch management policy in place. 

A patch management policy will define what needs patching, how to handle it, and when. Software vendors can then create patches whenever they find an exploit. They’ll also frequently patch weaknesses whenever a new patch is available. All in all, you should conduct the patching process itself for any of the following reasons:

  • Add new features or functionality to existing software often as part of SCRUM DevOps workflows
  • Fix broken code related to functionality or interoperability found post shipping 
  • Remediate exploits found after release of the software

Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of having one!

Patch Management Policy Benefits

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If you don’t know the benefits, let’s signpost it!
SOURCE: Pix4Free

A patch management policy enables all stakeholders to formally recognize how the business operates in terms of patch management. For instance, how proactive the administrator should be in identifying new patches and how fast they should be added to the network. 

A crucial benefit of a patch management policy is the guidelines used to enforce patch prioritization. You’ll often need help to install all patches at once and must schedule the most mission-critical ones first. 

Your patch management policy will also provide guidelines on what’s needed to take new patches through change management requests, approval processes, and deployment. In addition, it dictates how you monitor and validate the successful integration of a patch. 

Essentially, your patch management policy is a framework helping you with the operational delivery of patches. This framework tells all stakeholders, including new team members, precisely what to expect and defines roles and responsibilities. 

Next, let’s discover what you have to include in your patch management policy! 

7 Things to Include in a Patch Management Policy

To define a patch management policy, you need to consider and lay out the following considerations. Missing one or inadequately defining them could be detrimental to your network’s security. 

Illustration of a parrot in a tropical environment.
Patch management Polly-see?
SOURCE: RawPixel

1. System Identification

The first step is to take stock of everything present on your network and note what needs to be patched. You can expect this to be a mixed process of manual and automated tasks. Depending on how well you’ve already documented your system, this could take some time. If you add a network management solution to your network, you’re already almost done! 

A network management solution automatically detects and maps devices and applies updates. It also enables you to automate patch management and streamline the process for all software running on your network. Likewise, it makes creating a policy far easier. 

2. Patch Information Gathering

Now you know what needs patching. The next stage is to define where to find the patches. Usually, this is a download page on a vendor’s website. You also should determine when to actively search for patches. Include the tools and processes needed to complete each patch or the validation that a patch isn’t required. 

For instance, run security vulnerability scans, define a schedule for audits, and sign up for vendor patch notifications. Lastly, include a means of conducting an impact assessment of each bug or vulnerability as well. This should also include determining how a security compromise will impact security in other parts of your network. 

3. Patch Prioritization

You’ll need to find a way to quantitatively determine what patches you should apply over other pending ones. Critical security patches will take priority, for instance, over noncritical fixes or feature enhancements. You can use your business’s risk assessment strategy and documentation to build a patching prioritization strategy. This will likely include utilizing a weighted matrix assessing severity against impact to prioritize each patch. 

4. Patch Request and Approval

This part of your patch management policy pertains to change management. Responsibilities and workflows should be clear to everyone. So, you need to write this part of your policy formally. Include who is responsible for determining and approving each request. In this request, you also need to mention all necessary information about the specific deployment and rollback steps to complete the patch.

In return, this helps with productivity and protects you from liability in case anything terrible happens. Of course, each software will have its own patching needs and associated risks. Last, your policy should also consider scenarios like onsite, cloud, or hybrid solution deployments.

5. Patch Deployment

In this step, you should define patch deployment and the steps necessary to complete the patch. Previously, you were defining effectively the roles, responsibilities, and resources needed to ensure enough resolution for the decision-maker to approve or reject. 

Meanwhile, this section deals with how to download and implement the patch on a test system that accurately reflects the production environment and tests. Once you’re done defining these steps and workflows, you add the steps needed to roll out the patch. 

6. Patch Results Monitoring

Next, you need to define how to validate that production is working effectively with the new patch. You also need to monitor the patch to see if it solves the issue it was designed for. Additionally, you’ll need to include steps to consider documentation updates post-patch. The documentation should also include a rollback contingency step that you also tested while proving the solution.

7. Patch Results Documentation

Whether or not the patch was successful, you need to document the results. That way, you’ll have a clear record of what happened to report it to the vendor or use it for internal documentation. Also, provide any suggestions or exceptions that others can use when the next rollout comes around.

Now that you know what’s needed in your patch management policy, let’s go through the steps you need to create it.

How to Create a Patch Management Policy

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Construction requires a framework or at least some scaffolding!
SOURCE:  Flickr

The following steps outline what you need to do to create a rip-roaring patch management policy:

  1. Define a procedure for systematically identifying your system’s devices and software that need patching. Ensure you define how the classification process works to classify what needs patching. 
  2. Identify who’s responsible for patching each device and software.
  3. Document the processes and external resources needed to uncover relevant vulnerabilities and source feature updates.
  4. Create a patch change request template along with the approval process and rollback procedures that align with your change management policy and workflows.
  5. Create a patch lifecycle timeline for each set of system patches. Define how quickly a patch must be deployed based on various business and cybersecurity factors. Use quantitative measures and rationalization wherever possible.
  6. Detail a process for monitoring the effects of a newly applied patch. Define what negative system impacts would trigger a rollback.
  7. Create a documentation template after each patch to document events and valuable information to help future patching.
  8. Ensure you get your documents ratified by critical stakeholders and signed off for use. Never use documentation or processes that haven’t passed an internal review process. This helps ensure you get everything and reduces liability should anything go wrong.

Now, to help complement your new policy skills, look at the top 5 best practices you can apply to get the best patch management policy!

Top 5 Patch Management Policy Best Practices

As the saying goes, the best practice is to follow best practices, which is no different than making and enforcing a patch management policy. Below are 5 best practices you should consider when making your policy.

1. Manage Expectations

Patching your system is highly underrated as a risk to a business, including the need to roll back the plan. Manage the expectations of all stakeholders so that they know workflows should be taken just as seriously as migrating or upgrading multi-tier software platforms. 

2. Set a Disaster Recovery Plan

Hope for the best but expect the worst; ensure you have a bulletproof disaster recovery strategy. This will help your company bounce back in case anything bad occurs. You should also check that you can use your production backups to roll back the system. 

3. Assess Risks

Enterprise risk management ensures harmful internal or external practices don’t impact a company’s growth. Take it seriously, and conduct a risk assessment verified by someone else independently. In addition, ensure your risk assessment is signed off to reduce risk and avoid catastrophe. 

4. Patch Testing

Always test anything before implementing it in your production environment. To do this effectively, constantly update your test environment with production data where possible. This is easy to do with virtual domains, as you can clone everything reasonably quickly. That said, it’s a bit more tedious when dealing with physical systems. 

5. Apply Patches

Create a patching schedule that works effectively for finding new patches and book a maintenance window when ready; always follow this. Allowing bad actors to gain access through an exploit isn’t something you want to tell your line manager. 

Now that you’re a patch management policy superuser, it’s time to wrap up!

Final Thoughts

Patches are vital for reducing your attack surface, improving user experience, and adding new features or interoperability. Patching also supports business growth by reducing operational inefficiencies and absorbing negative impacts from bad actors. 

So, creating a patch management policy helps you manage routine patching projects that also require project management. To this end, your patch management policy enables you to automate the preliminary documentation and preparation needed to run each project. Lastly, getting your patch management policy correct allows you to assign stakeholders to critical workflows, manage expectations, and reduce risk to the business.

Learn more about patch management policy and similar topics in the FAQ and Resources sections below!


What are the different types of auditing my business will face?

Auditing depends on business obligations like regulatory requirements or supply chain obligations. This means that you may run into 4 different types of auditing. These types are; product, process, system, and quality management. You can conduct audits internally or externally, depending on requirements. 

How does an effective data security policy help overall business security?

An effective data classification policy helps you create a list of all your data and data locations for cybersecurity. In return, this helps improve your overall business security. It also enables you to determine the risk of data exposure for any data class you make. In addition, you can prevent security loopholes for sensitive data and streamline resources needed to protect data.

How do I secure my Kubernetes infrastructure?

Kubernetes infrastructure requires external security and lockdown capabilities. Some of these are access policies for each pod, network policies, role-based access control, and namespace access policies. Many software solutions can help you manage and track security-related issues. 

Do software companies wait before releasing details of known exploits?

Yes, in most cases, companies like Google or Microsoft will delay the release of details of known exploits to help create and test patches to fix them. Companies will often release exploit details and patch details according to a known schedule. This is to help administrators schedule patch maintenance. It also helps prevent bad actors from learning the exploit and creating cyberattacks that use them. 

What is SOC 2 Compliance?

A Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 audit is a third-party audit to certify that your business complies with security policies that secure your customer’s data. Your business will use a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with no vested interest in your company. In short, the auditor’s goal is to ensure that you’re protecting your customer’s data.


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