If your business has any IT resources at all and is connected to the Internet, it’s not a question of if you will suffer a security incident; it’s just a matter of when. Just how bad such an incident will be comes down to your patch management strategy. Patch management is critical in any size company, from the sole proprietorship to the international enterprise, and keeping up with the patching on every single server and workstation on your network is the most effective thing you can do to minimize your exposure to the threats facing your network.
There are several different ways that malicious attackers can compromise your network. Malware infected email attachments and downloads, worms that propagate from system to system, and compromised websites that deliver harmful scripts to browsers, all tend to take advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities in your operating systems, web browsers and other applications to do their damage. Guessing passwords and finding unsecured ways into networks are still out there, but it is much easier to probe for an unpatched webserver, and that same activity is usually much more difficult to detect. Once an attacker finds a flaw, they can easily exploit it with any number of canned attacks. There are even frameworks where people can create “hack in a box” type plug-ins that anyone can use, with no programming experience required.
These sorts of attacks rely on the victims to have unpatched systems running on their network. Patch management is the most effective, and the easiest way to defend against such threats. Operating system and software application vendors regularly release patches for their products, and notify their customers who have registered whenever an update is available. Some, but unfortunately not all, even provide ways for users to set their computers up to automatically download those updates to make it as easy as possible to receive and install the patches. Using patch management enables admins to deploy patches in a controlled fashion, testing them before wide scale deployment, and also to ensure that all systems are up-to-date on their patches. Patch management gives you the control you should have, to ensure that your systems are secured. Patch management also provides you a way to patch those applications that the vendors don’t provide an automated way to handle.
Patch management systems enable you to maintain full control of your systems’ patching activities. You can deploy security patches to test machines, and then push them out to all the rest of your machines, and also run reports to ensure that you have 100% compliance across all servers and workstations. You can use your patch management system to provide reports up to management and to auditors as well, so you can make sure management knows what is going on, and that auditors’ requests are easy to meet.
With patch management, you can also quickly and easily push emergency patches out to all your systems. While testing patches and deploying them in a planned manner is preferable, every so often a zero day exploit is discovered that necessitates pushing a patch out to all systems as quickly as possible. Without a patch management system, you may have to run from machine to machine, or worse still, rely upon your users to patch their own systems. With patch management, you can deploy an update from the comfort of your desk, and know that you have all your machines covered.
For the security of your network, and to ensure quick and efficient deployment of security patches to all workstations and servers, deploy a patch management application on your network today. The ease with which you can patch your systems, the reporting that it provides, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you are not subject to exploits of unpatched systems makes a patch management system a vital component of your network management suite.
About the author: Casper Manes writes for GFI Software Ltd, a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs.
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