In today’s increasingly complex IT and networking environments, automated patch management is a critical component to maintaining business operations and keeping organizations secure. Organizations are constantly under threat, with the average seeing 497 cyberattacks every week, and automated patching is one part of cybersecurity hygiene that helps reduce an organization’s attack surface. But unpatched software isn’t just a security problem, it’s also a drag on business that can cause employees to lose valuable time as they deal with new or ongoing IT issues.
While the trend in attacks seems likely only to rise, IT pros have been tasked with managing more devices and software as a result of our shift to remote and hybrid work environments. But patch management can be a time-consuming process and when you’re managing hundreds or thousands of endpoints, the only way to do the job efficiently is through automation. Automated patch management is increasingly being managed with remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools that integrate patch management software into a single-pane solution.
What is automated patching?
Automated patching is the process of using either specialized tools or scripting to automate patches across fleets of devices and cloud environments. Patches are typically issued to fix mistakes in code, improve the performance of existing features, or add new features to software. Patches can also impact hardware, whether its IoT devices or laptops and servers.
While Windows devices still dominate the business market, Mac and Linux endpoints are becoming more prevalent. Modern patch management requires a tool that can effectively secure all three operating systems. With an RMM that supports these operating systems, users can make their automations even more intelligent by issuing patches for specific devices at the group, organizational or global level based on any condition monitored for by the RMM. The granular controls over the patching process that an RMM provides gives organizations the ability to fine tune an approach to patch management that works for them.
What is automated patch management?
Automated patch management is similar to automated patching but refers to the entire patch management process, including installing a patch. The patch management process can contain everything from discovery and policy creation to testing, rolling out, and reporting on patches. A patching platform combined with automation will improve patch accuracy while reducing the amount of manual management required throughout the process.
Patch management is easy to fall behind in, due to the sheer number of patches coming out. Every year, thousands of common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) reports are issued and IT teams have to react quickly to apply the patches. In addition to patching potential security vulnerabilities, IT teams also have to keep software, operating systems, and devices up to date and properly configured to ensure top performance. Any step of the patch management process that can be automated is critical for improving efficiency.
Having the right tools is critical. Cloud-based, automated patch management software allows MSPs to schedule regular update scans, and ensure patches are applied under specific conditions or automatically.
What are the benefits of automated patch management?
The main benefits of automated patch management are increased security and productivity for both end-users as well as IT staff.
Unpatched software, OSs, and other devices are a primary vector that would-be attackers exploit to gain access to company networks and devices. These exploits are frequently actively exploited by attackers, which makes their speedy patching all the more important. Underlining the importance of patching, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued a directive requiring federal agencies to patch known exploited vulnerabilities within specific time frames. Automated patching software can help identify when a patch is needed, pull that patch from the vendor, test & roll out the patch, and then report on whether or not the patch was successful.
As we’ve mentioned, patching can be an extremely time-consuming process, especially when the patching process is manual. With technicians juggling hundreds or even thousands of devices, manually installing and verifying patches would completely take over their schedule and prevent them from providing preventative maintenance and solving end-user problems. Patching can easily take 30 minutes to an hour per device per month to complete, so automating as much of this process as possible is critically important.
While automated patch management can help improve an organization’s security posture and productivity, it might not be the best decision for every organization. In The New Stack, Emily Omier notes how full automation could interfere with some mission-critical technology and lead to costly downtime. She also notes how automated patching for some legacy technology could lead to problems that require further remediation. Ultimately, she finds that as organizations adopt more cloud-native architecture and applications, automated patch management becomes much easier.
How to get started with automated patch management
Automated patch management is something all organizations should consider implementing to achieve higher levels of security compliance and improve the productivity of their employees. At a time when organizations are under more and more pressure from cyber threats, patch management is an important part of cybersecurity hygiene that modern IT departments must contend with.