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The Importance of Patch Management

written by: Joe Taylor Jr.•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 1/13/2011

A few years ago, small business owners could set up a new computer or server and leave it on auto-pilot for the next few years. However, with so many criminals manipulating “botnets" of hacked computers, companies must change their approach to network maintenance.

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    Addressing Issues with Patch Management

    Although programmers and software companies frequently release urgent updates to their products, it can be easy to overlook the latest patches among a sea of alerts. Likewise, as patches interact with various elements of operating systems and networks, they can create their own side effects and vulnerabilities.

    That’s why many networking security professionals encourage company leaders to adopt “patch management" strategies and policies that can help improve security without disrupting key systems. Without a patch management plan, companies might find themselves housing hacked computers that actually attack other networks without the knowledge of their users. In a worst-case scenario, companies could find their own data, like customer data and trade secrets, for sale on the black market.

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    Why is a Patch Management Strategy so Important to Businesses?

    Modern operating systems make it easy for home users to stay on top of the latest security patches. However, business can often grind to a halt when a well-meaning employee runs a standard-issue update tool. A patch management strategy includes cataloguing all of the computer workstations online within a company and balancing the needs of the business against the critical threats solved by each patch.

    A patch management strategy strives for consistency across an organization’s systems, even if that means delaying the deployment of key software updates. It might sound counter-intuitive to postpone the installation of a software patch. However, if a patch addresses a vulnerability but renders a piece of business software useless, a company can suffer the same net results as if it actually had been attacked. By measuring the real risks of attack, networking security teams can more effectively manage their systems while minimizing the likelihood of being hacked.

    Scheduling plays a major role in successful patch management. Upon notification of new software upgrades, administrators must schedule time to test patches, review results, and deploy patches to entire networks. Throughout the year, system administrators must audit networks and review ongoing maintenance schedules to make sure that every machine receives the correct updates. In small businesses with just a handful of computers, a simple patch management protocol can mean scheduling a regular time each week to research updates and their effects online before running batches of patches.

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