Patch management is the process of managing software updates, known as patches, for software applications or systems. Patches are administered to fix bugs, address security issues, or improve the general operation of a software system. Instead of installing patches on every device running a software application, software developers typically release patches on a central server, so updates go out to all devices that use the app.
Regulations and standards like PCI-DSS and HIPAA have requirements for how frequently businesses must patch their systems to remain compliant: for example, HIPAA compliance requires immediate patching once a security update is available.
What does patch management include?
If you use a smartphone, you have probably had to update at least some of the apps on your device from time to time. Some of these updates will be scheduled software version updates from the app developer, and some updates will be patches for ad hoc bugs, slowdowns, or security holes. Software developers use patch management to decide how, when, where, and what to patch to keep from interrupting an app’s service or availability.
Enterprises must patch their operating systems and applications regularly to protect workloads and data. System administrators and developers are responsible for updating software or managing programs that push patches automatically.
If done improperly, software patches can create new problems while in the process of fixing others. This is why developers should release patches carefully, following a certain protocol. Typically, patch management includes some variation of the following steps:
- Identifying the issue and devising a solution
- Writing object code for the patch
- Testing the patch in a sandbox environment
- Approving the patch and writing the code documentation
- Releasing the patch to users
- Monitoring the release for any issues that may arise following installation
Some developers use their own version of the above process, while others use a software solution to help define the process and even automate certain aspects of patch management.
The importance of patch management
The rapid advances in cyberattacks make it challenging for businesses and software developers to protect applications. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities quickly once they’re revealed. Patch management is critical because it allows businesses to minimize their attack vectors.
Businesses often need automated systems that immediately patch vulnerabilities when they become known. Human software management isn’t always rapid enough to update code and patch vulnerabilities. Automated programs, such as remote monitoring and management software, lift the burden of manual configuration from enterprises.
Patch management is also important for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) plans and solutions. Enterprises that allow employees to use their personal devices for work need automated ways to quickly update phones and computers. BYOD is a major data privacy and security threat to enterprises, and regularly patching is one way to protect devices from malware and attacks.
What are the best patch management solutions?
There are many patch management software solutions available to developers. Here are some of the most popular programs.
|NinjaOne: Formerly known as NinjaRMM, this endpoint tool offers patch management within its suite for remote devices.|
|Syxsense Manage: Designed to protect endpoint devices from exploited vulnerabilities, Syxsense is an option for remote workforces that also need to track inventory and manage configuration.|
|Solarwinds Patch Manager: This software patches Windows computers and servers. It also supports some third-party applications.|
|Automox: A cloud-based solution, this tool doesn’t require on-premises patching hardware and allows entirely cloud-native endpoint patching.|
|ConnectWise Automate: An IT automation platform for monitoring and troubleshooting, Automate includes a patch management tool.|
|ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus: Available for both cloud and on-premises deployments, Patch Manager Plus patches Windows, macOS, and Linux endpoint devices.|
|ITarian Patch Manager: A solution for updating operating systems and third-party apps, Itarian allows businesses to automatically patch groups of endpoints.|
|GFI LanGuard: This patch management tool also includes auditing and security scans.|
|SysWard: Allowing group patching and update scheduling, SysWard supports a variety of open-source software.|