Why should companies keep their software patched?
Not all businesses close because of insufficient cash flow or low sales. Others do so because of a data breach.
In 2014, Code Space, a growing code-hosting startup, left the competition after a significant DDoS attack wiped out its database and backup. The costs of resolving the problem were staggering it would leave the company financially unhealthy.
While the attack lasted only 12 hours, it caused the business to close its doors forever.
Cybersecurity risks have also looked grimmer over the years. Statista states that at least 15 million global records were exposed following a data breach during the third quarter of 2022. It represented an increase of 37% compared to the second quarter.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Organizations can push back as cyber criminals forge onward, beginning with software-patched management.
What Is a Software Patch?
Before we dive deep into software patched management or even the reasons businesses should update their platforms, let’s discuss the concept.
What is it? How does it work?
Software patching is the process of updating software programs to the latest version. The easiest way to explain is to compare it to sealing a pipe leak or sewing a tear in a shirt. In both cases, you are addressing the problem by fixing it.
Released by app or platform developers, patches may become available following a schedule. However, in many cases, they release them as soon as they detect a critical security risk or have already experienced a data breach.
Why Should You Update Software?
Contrary to popular belief, many platforms do not install patches automatically into any system. Microsoft Windows, for example, lets you schedule updates.
You may even choose to ignore the process completely. However, the benefits are significantly greater than the hassle that comes with it.
Here are the biggest reasons you need to keep your software patched.
1. Update Patch Security
How do hackers infiltrate a database and steal information? They do have many doorways, and one of these is software vulnerability.
A 2022 IBM Security X-Force report shared that new cloud cybersecurity risks increased by a whopping six times in only six years. Almost 30% of these compromises occurred when attackers exploited unpatched platforms.
In fact, a loophole or a bug in software has become one of the easiest and most common entry points for these bad actors in less than a decade.
Fortunately, software developers are also paying more attention to critical errors by releasing patches that:
- Eliminate the threat
- Fix critical errors
- Close loopholes
2. Data Protection and Privacy
An offshoot benefit of updating patch security is data and privacy protection.
Hackers want to get hold of your data for many reasons:
- They want to expose the vulnerability of your IT infrastructure.
- They are out for revenge.
- Cybercriminals want to gain access to confidential data and intellectual property.
- They plan to steal your money.
- Hackers would like to sell your data in the dark web.
- They are engaged in cyberwarfare.
In other words, not all are interested in your personal information. But regardless of the hows and whys, a single exposure already raises your risk of identity theft — a costly, time-consuming, and life-changing experience.
Software patching management minimizes, if not eliminates, the chances of becoming a victim.
3. Legal Compliance
Software patching may not sound like the most exciting activity, but it’s actually a crucial part of keeping a platform or business compliant.
By definition, compliance means adhering to a set of guidelines or rules. In the business world, there are all sorts of legalities that you should follow to avoid fines. The same is true for software platforms. These include:
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). It’s a set of policies to protect cardholder data.
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). This act is designed for public companies to remain compliant with financial regulations.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It’s intended to protect the privacy and security of patients’ electronic health information.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This regulation protects individuals’ personal data stored within the European Union.
The penalties for non-compliance can be severe. In the European Union, for example, not following the GDPR could mean paying up to 4% of your company’s worldwide annual revenue based on the previous year or up to €20 million, whichever is higher.
This is on top of the possible class-action lawsuit you’re likely to face.
Ensuring your platforms are software patched and up-to-date helps you stay compliant, avoid legal troubles, and even improve your bottom line by helping you save money.
4. Enhanced Performance
Software updates don’t just give you peace of mind but also improve your platform’s performance. In turn, it promotes a more satisfying, secure user experience.
- The patch may come with new or upgraded features and functions. Google, for example, has recently announced Reading Mode and a new text-to-speech feature that can improve accessibility and quality of life.
- Software patched can help enhance computer speed and stability. Platforms may not be tangible products but can also exhibit wear and tear. Chunky codes, for instance, can slow down applications. Updates allow cleaning up and deleting unnecessary files, making the application lighter and faster.
- A patch also enhances system efficiency. Proper software patched management enables you to reduce energy consumption and even optimize battery life. It can close up energy-wasting backdoors that may drain your computer or device’s power.
5. Software and OS Compatibility
Legacy platforms may be reliable but don’t always provide necessary updates. New hardware or operating systems may be incompatible with the older platform. The NHS ransomware attack is a prime example.
Software patches can bridge the gap between two worlds: new and old. It ensures compatibility between different network infrastructure components and allows you to take advantage of newer technologies without spending on an upgrade.
Software patch management can also help you avoid the “mystery machine” problem. It’s a situation where you have no idea what software or hardware is running in your infrastructure, making it difficult to predict any issues that could arise from compatibility problems.
6. Brand Reputation
Software patching management is not just about protecting your organization from cyber threats and legal sanctions. It’s also an effective way of boosting brand reputation.
- Customers are less likely to do business with you after a data breach. They may even leave you for good.
- Security is an excellent value proposition. With cybersecurity risks, a solid security management plan becomes a marketing tool. Being up-to-date on security patches shows customers and other stakeholders that you take their data seriously and have an effective system in place to protect them.
- Keeping your software patched also boosts trust among your customers and other partners. It helps you establish a relationship of trust and reliability.
- A bad user experience is costly. One study even said that negative reviews could have more impact than positive ones. Consumers won’t hesitate to avoid your brand if people say you cannot secure their information.
Software Patched Management: How to Do It Right
All these reasons mean one thing: software patching is non-negotiable. And yet, many companies still fail to maximize its benefits because of the following reasons:
- they forgot to do it,
- they don’t have the time to update multiple platforms across several devices, and / or
- they don’t know how to patch their systems efficiently.
To resolve these issues, here are easy-to-follow software-patch management tips:
1. Audit Your Software
You will never know which applications require much-needed updates unless you perform an audit.
- Auditing helps you to identify which systems need to be patched.
- It can also uncover any unauthorized software installations. The process can help you verify those patch management procedures are properly followed.
- By regularly auditing your software inventory, you can help ensure that your system is secure and compliant with patch-management best practices.
Performing an audit does not have to be complicated. A simple system follows these steps:
- Start by listing all the software applications used in your organization.
- Next, note down the version numbers of each application and compare them with the latest patch available.
2. Sort or Categorize Applications Based on Priority and Risks
When resources are limited or scarce, categorizing platforms according to risks and priorities is the best approach.
- Prioritize patching applications with high-security risks first. Consider the potential impact of a breach in terms of data loss or damage to the system. Will it lead to huge fines or penalties? Can it result in a lawsuit or business shutdown?
- Classify applications according to importance and usage frequency. For instance, prioritize those the organization uses heavily, especially cloud-based and mobile platforms. The same goes for software applications that are integral to the operations, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and inventory tracking systems.
- Focus on legacy applications. These are the ones that received fewer patches and updates in comparison to newer platforms. Eliminate those that no longer receive software support.
3. Automate the Software Patching Process
Patching software can be gruelling. It is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and even expensive, especially if it involves large complex IT infrastructures.
How do you simplify everything without missing a step? The answer is automation.
Automating the patching process can be highly beneficial:
- It helps eliminate manual errors and speeds up the entire process.
- Automated patching systems also allow you to verify that each application is properly updated with the latest patches.
These days, you can choose and use various software patching tools that also offer several features and benefits, including:
- Syslog integration
- Automated patch download and deployment
- Centralized management
- Auto-rollback features
- Vulnerability assessment
Whether you choose a free or paid tool, they can significantly help your organization manage its software patches more efficiently.
4. Test the Patch and the Process
Assumptions are dangerous, especially with software patching management. How often did you believe that you’ve already updated the program when you haven’t? Or that you’ve already deleted the much older application?
Furthermore, humans are also not infallible. Even the brightest software developer can make mistakes, so the patch may not solve the problem. It may also introduce other issues, such as slower speed. In some situations, the download process is riddled with freezes and lags.
Testing the patch and the process is essential to ensure that everything works fine. Test it first in a controlled environment, such as a test lab or staging server, then gradually deploy the update across other platforms and systems.
5. Document the Process
As they say, consistency is the key. To ensure that your patch management procedures are effective, document them.
- Documenting the process helps you standardize your procedures and encourages others to follow proper patch management practices.
- It also prevents any changes from being implemented without approval.
The documentation format and content can vary according to the software, industry, and user. However, usually, it features the following steps:
- Identifying the software assets requiring patch updates
- Categorizing them according to risks and priorities
- Creating a patching timeline that considers business needs
- Choosing the right tools and systems for automation
- Monitoring and testing the process
6. Update Everything When Necessary
Not only platforms require updates. So do your software-patched policies, processes, and software patching tools.
This is because:
- The company may have changed its IT infrastructure or added new applications.
- The developer has decided to end product support or launch an entirely new program in its place.
- New threats have emerged. The patching process should be re-evaluated regularly to check if everything still applies and is up to date.
- You’ve experienced a data breach.
- Industry requirements and standards have changed. For instance, it may have introduced new regulations for compliance.
Periodically review every aspect of your management process. Consider doing it every quarter — and a major assessment once a year.
Software patched management is not the be-all, end-all solution for cybersecurity risks. It doesn’t make your business immune to a data breach. However, it severely limits intrusions from bad actors while helping you improve your bottom line by increasing customer trust, brand reputation, and avoiding hefty fines and legal costs.
At the end of the day, prevention will always be better than cure. That’s what patching offers you.