Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This age old advice is easily applied to the digital world we live in today. Computers, applications and networks are under constant attack by hackers who are extremely motivated by big financial gains.
An effective patch and vulnerability management program has the ability to stop most hackers dead in their tracks. It greatly reduces the risk associated with the exploitation of a neglected or un-patched computer system.
Year after year, we learn that the vast majority of successful cyber-attacks have exploited unpatched computers and / or unpatched applications. What is even more interesting is that most of the patches for these compromised systems had been available to install for months, if not years prior to the cyber-attack.
There is no doubt that the combination of routine vulnerability scanning and the timely installation of system patches will make it much more difficult for a hacker to compromise your computer systems and information.
Here are 7 steps to help you build an effective patch and vulnerability management program:
Inventory Systems and Applications
Before we attempt to patch computers, operating systems and applications, we first must know of their existence. It is important to maintain an inventory of all computing assets. If possible, use inventory software to assist with the task but at the least, make sure the inventory is completed using manual means.
Monitor for Vulnerabilities
Vendors will release patches at regular intervals as new vulnerabilities are discovered. You must know when new patches are available to install otherwise, you risk not installing patches in a timely manner – or installing them at all. Good mechanisms to use for monitoring vulnerabilities include a combination of:
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Selecting Patches to Apply
Deciding which patches are ultimately installed is typically based on the criticality of the patch, importance of the system being patched, the resources required to install the patch and assurance of post install system functionality. It is good practice to at a minimum, install all “Critical” and “Security” patches.
Prior to installing patches, it is important to install patches in a test or non-production computing environment. This will assure that the installation of the patch will not cause any adverse outages or system disruption when it is ultimately installed in a production computer environment.
Despite the testing efforts completed in the previous section, it is still conceivable that the installation of a patch will create unanticipated issues or outages. For this reason, it is important that you verify the system or application being patched has recent data backup that can easily be restored if needed.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends that patch installation should be automated using enterprise patch management tools or alternative options. Manually installing patches is expensive and inconsistent. Where possible, be sure that systems are automatically updated according to your patch management program parameters.
The installation of a patch should always be confirmed by either re-scanning the system with a vulnerability scanner and / or reviewing log files.
Patching Equals Prevention
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