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What Is Patching in Cybersecurity?

Tristen Cooper

Coding and Cybersecurity Analytics

Patching is an important part of maintaining a safe IT environment. Both software and hardware developers frequently release patches to address newfound security vulnerabilities in their products. 

Organizations need to install new security patches regularly to keep their systems safe from hackers and other threats.

If your organization doesn’t currently have a process for managing patches, it’s important to put one in place. Here’s why patching is so important, as well as patch management best practices you should know about.

Key Takeaways

  • Patches are small updates to software programs and systems to address vulnerabilities and functionality problems.
  • Patches should be installed as soon as possible after their release to keep your systems safe from hackers.
  • Patch management involves scheduling regular downtime for patches and prioritizing patch deployment accordingly.

What is Patching?

Patching is the process of applying recently-released patch updates to software programs and operating systems you use.

Developers release patches to their customers when they find new vulnerabilities in their systems. In most cases, these vulnerabilities are found proactively through internal audits or ethical hacking.

However, critical patches can also be released after a cyber attack. In this case, patches should be installed immediately to mitigate the cyber threat and prevent your business from becoming a target.

Patches are often confused with software updates, but they are slightly different. Patches are developed and released in response to known vulnerabilities. Updates are larger changes that improve overall performance and can even add new features.

Why is Patching Important for Cybersecurity?

Patching is essential for keeping your systems and your business safe from cyber criminals and other security threats. If you don’t install patches in a timely manner, security risks will remain present in your systems.

Hackers can then take advantage of these security risks to access sensitive data within your organization. If a patch was released in response to a cyber attack, hackers may even seek out businesses who have not updated their systems in an attempt to launch a copycat attack.

Unfortunately, many companies wait too long to patch their systems. The average organization waits between 88 and 208 days to patch cyber vulnerabilities.

Data breaches that happen as a result of not patching your systems can be devastating. Personal information, financial information, and intellectual property could all be exposed, putting you and your customers at risk.

Recovering your systems after a data breach is also a very time-consuming process. If you fail to patch your systems and are later targeted by a cyber attack, it could slow down your business and hurt your bottom line. 

Keeping up-to-date with system patches is also essential to compliance for many organizations. Many industries are subject to strict data protection laws, many of which require comprehensive system updates.

What is the Patching Process?

Patching, system updates, and vulnerability management should all be done on a regular basis. If you don’t schedule time in advance for patching, you’ll end up having to take frequent downtime for emergency patches. 

The first step in the patching process is taking a full inventory of your system assets. Then, monitor the assets for new patch releases and other security updates.

There are many ways to do this. In many cases, hardware and software vendors will contact their customers directly when a new patch is available. Some software programs also come with the option to apply new patches and updates automatically. 

This may or may not be viable for your organization, depending on your security and compliance requirements.

There are also software programs that are specifically designed to keep the patch management process organized. These programs scan your apps for new patches so you never have to worry about missing one. 

Some patch management software also use automation to help you plan patch deployment and make the process more efficient.

When you’ve identified patches that need to be installed, you’ll need to prioritize them based on risk level. You may not have time to install all available patches at once. 

Creating a priority list ensures that the most vulnerable aspects of your systems are addressed first. Keep compliance in mind when prioritizing patches to ensure that regulated data isn’t accidentally exposed.

When possible, your IT department or provider should test patches internally before installing them on your whole system. 

Once you’ve tested the patches, you’ll need to schedule a time to install them. Some organizations designate specific days of the week or month to install patches.

Ideally, patches should be installed at a time when no one else is working. Many organizations schedule patch deployment at night for this reason. If you have employees using your systems 24/7, you may need to deploy patches in waves.

After you’ve installed each patch, monitor your systems closely to ensure that everything went smoothly. Be prepared to address any problems as they arise.

It’s also important to document your patch management process. Not only is this essential for compliance, but it can also help you streamline your patching process in the future.

How Can an MSP Help With Patch Management?

Not all small businesses have the resources to handle patch management on their own. Even if you have an in-house IT department, those team members may be too busy handling day-to-day challenges to think about broader IT strategy.

This is where a managed service provider, or MSP, can help. A managed service provider provides third-party IT services that can be scaled to meet your needs. 

These services can work in conjunction with your existing IT department, or even serve as an alternative to an in-house IT department for smaller organizations.

Reach out to our Parachute team for a free consultation, and learn more about how we can help your business develop and execute a patching plan.