Patching is a tedious but necessary task when it comes to keeping your systems updated and protected from vulnerabilities. Patching effectively and regularly can be the difference between a smooth experience for your customers, and a frustrating one. But more importantly, it keeps your data safe from security breaches and ransomware attacks that could devastate your business from the inside out.
These days, most people are aware of the digital threats that target everyone from international companies to your grandmother’s old computer. Cybersecurity trends for the coming year indicate that DDoS and Ransomware attacks are only expected to rise, and this makes timely patching ever more critical for the stability of your business.
So, how can you ensure your systems are healthy and protected as best as possible? In this blog, we explain the four key steps to patching effectively and on time.
1. Know what you have
The first step is to have a detailed itinerary of all your systems, and to understand what vulnerabilities might apply to those systems. For example, if you have a recent version of a system, certain vulnerabilities might not be relevant anymore. Understanding exactly what you have also allows you to identify which vulnerabilities are critical to patch and therefore require immediate action.
You also need to identify the risk levels of each of your servers so you can prioritize those most vulnerable to attack. Any public facing servers that lie in front of other servers effectively act as your first line of defense and are likely to be targeted first, whereas servers on the private network are harder to access since they are not connected to the internet. Whilst it is of course important to patch everything, prioritizing public facing servers or any servers you identify as high risk is key to protecting your entire environment.
A problem you might run into at some point is end-of-life software that is no longer being supported by its creators and therefore has no further updates available. To avoid this, users must keep track of what version their operating system is and keep it up to date for as long as possible. Investigate Long Term Support options that usually offer an extended number of years of support compared to the normal versions.
2. Have a patching plan
Within your team, you need to have predetermined roles and responsibilities assigned when it comes to patching. For example, when a vulnerability appears there needs to be someone to alert the company. It’s important to have a calendar to schedule regular patching sessions to make sure the patching gets done and is not delayed. This ensures vulnerabilities are dealt with before they become serious problems for the company.
Of course, when it comes to critical vulnerabilities known as Zero Day Vulnerabilities, these need to be patched immediately as they can cause serious security breaches. For example, if there’s a ransomware attack, your company could end up paying bitcoins to a shady account to get your data back – and this is the last thing anyone needs. Hence, the importance of both immediate patching of critical vulnerabilities, and scheduled regular patching sessions to keep things continuously in order.
3. Use a staging environment
If it’s within your budget, it’s always good practice to make use of a staging environment. This is essentially a replication of your environment that you can use for testing purposes without affecting your primary environment. Here, you can deploy updates and check that nothing unexpected breaks, allowing you to subsequently deploy the update on your main environment with confidence.
4. Automated Patching Tools
As soon as you have more than about five servers, using an automation tool becomes necessary to keep up with the amount of patching that will be needed. Some good automation tools include: Ansible, Puppet, Chef, and SaltStack. Mostly, these tools do the same thing which is to patch certain vulnerabilities for you. Some of them just do patching whilst others also offer complete system automation for things like installations, deployments, housekeeping tasks, etc. These days, most tools are geared towards complete system automation.
With these four steps, you can ensure that your systems are updated and prepared for attacks as best as possible. If you have any questions about patching, leave a comment for us below.