What is Windows Patch Management? Overview & How To

reviewed by Matt Law
What is Windows Patch Management

57% of those who receive a cyberattack claim that the attack wouldn’t have happened had they simply applied an available patch. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when there are specific tools and software available to help simplify and streamline the patch management process. Windows patch management is a type of patch management important for businesses with Windows endpoints.

What is Windows patch management?

Windows patch management is the updating or fixing of Microsoft systems using patches created specifically for Windows devices. These patches work to harden devices, protect them from outside cyberattacks and threats, and ensure that the software functions properly and runs smoothly. Patch management software for Windows devices allow you to efficiently execute the patch management process.

Why Windows patch management is important

Windows patch management, as well as other types of patch management, is not simply to protect against vulnerabilities overall. Efficient Windows patching assesses and prioritizes certain patches over others, based on the possible negative effects of not patching or the likelihood of exploitation. Windows patch management is important because it:

Protects against known Windows threats

Microsoft reports, “Attacks that impact customers’ systems rarely result from attackers’ exploitation of previously unknown vulnerabilities. Rather, they exploit vulnerabilities for which patches are available but not applied.” Efficient Windows patch management can help to quickly patch your Windows devices with available patches before attackers try to enter the system.

Preserves and supports Windows endpoints

Windows patch management helps you to save money and lower costs that are associated with the management and upkeep of your Windows endpoints, such as device support and repair. The patch management of Windows servers is also critical because of the far-reaching effects of a server endpoint.

Meet compliance requirements

To ensure your business maintains compliance, effective Windows patch management is critical. Whether your IT environment is made up of entirely Windows devices or has just a few, to meet compliance standards, every component in your IT environment needs to remain secure.

What is Patch Tuesday?

Patch Tuesday is the term used for Microsoft’s software patches and security updates. Patch Tuesday happens monthly on every second Tuesday.

The patches released on Patch Tuesday are typically to address vulnerabilities in Windows systems, specifically the desktop and server. Additionally, the patches may update or fix other Microsoft software and applications, such as Azure or Microsoft Office.

What are the types of Windows patches?

Microsoft has multiple types of patches, or updates, but the two most common types you will hear about are feature updates and quality updates:

1. Feature updates

Windows feature updates are when Microsoft adds new features to their existing products. These types of updates are released annually.

2. Quality updates

Windows quality updates are made up of four subtypes: security updates, critical updates, servicing stack updates, and driver updates. Quality updates are usually the updates that are released on Patch Tuesday, so they are largely security fixes, but they can also be non-security focused.

You can find out more about the basics of Windows updates and learn how these updates will help support your Windows devices.

Does Microsoft have a patch management tool?

Microsoft’s free patch management tool is known as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). WSUS is available on the Windows Server Operating system, and it is used to initiate and deploy patches to endpoints from the server.

This free patching tool may be beneficial if basic Windows patching is all you need, but it is lacking if you need more than that. WSUS uses push-style patching, which means that it just sends the patches directly to the endpoints regardless of their status. It can’t pull information from the endpoint so it doesn’t know what patches are missing or needed, and it doesn’t know if a patch was successfully applied to a system.

SCCM was the paid Microsoft endpoint management tool that was used in conjunction with WSUS. SCCM would manage devices while WSUS would patch those devices. SCCM is now a component of Microsoft Configuration Manager, which is part of the Microsoft Intune family of products. Microsoft Configuration Manager is their endpoint management product, and using this product you can manually or automatically deploy software updates.

Windows patch management challenges

If there’s one thing that IT teams can agree on, it’s that patching is hard! There are many patch management challenges that apply broadly, but three specific challenges of Windows patch management include:

1. Volume of Windows patches

Microsoft releases patches all the time, and there are a lot of them. It can be difficult to keep track of them all while efficiently applying them to your IT environment. Since patches are typically related to security, it’s critical to make sure you account for all the available Windows patches.

2. Broken Windows patches

Often the patches received for Windows devices may be broken, or the patches may inadvertently break stuff in other workflows. You need to be able to patch, but you also need to be able to revert back if you do break something.

3. Application of Windows patches

You need to make sure your Windows endpoints are patched and patched quickly. The generally heterogeneous nature of IT environments also means that no one is starting from the same place. Within an environment, you may have very different versions of Windows, which complicates the patch management application process. The patch management lifecycle of your Windows devices is also something you need to take into account when determining how to effectively apply Windows patches.

How to automate Windows patch management

Windows patch management can be automated using policies on third-party patching software. Automation features help to streamline and speed up your patch management process.

When you set up a patching policy you can determine:

  • When you want to identify patches
  • When you want to deploy them
  • What types of patches you want to approve and deploy automatically

Automated Windows patch management with NinjaOne

Windows handles patch management natively, but doesn't give you visibility, control, or the ability to ensure that you're patched in a timely manner. Additionally, a lot of patching tools are designed to be used on a network, which doesn’t work well for remote employees who require a remote solution.

NinjaOne provides windows patch management software to help you more effectively patch your Windows devices. It provides features such as automated remote patch management, a patch status dashboard, and compliance reporting. Ninja also allows you to leverage a WSUS server by pulling patches directly from the Microsoft cloud, ensuring you don’t miss any available Windows patches. Start increasing the efficiency of your Windows patch management and sign up for a free trial today.

Next Steps

Patching is the single most critical aspect of a device hardening strategy. According to Ponemon, almost 60% of breaches could be avoided through effective patching. NinjaOne makes it fast and easy to patch all your Windows, Mac, and Linux devices whether remote or on-site.
Learn more about Ninja Patch Management, check out a live tour, or start your free trial of the NinjaOne platform.

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