Automation is one of my favorite words. It means doing more with less. It also means my robot vacuum can spend all day vacuuming the mountains of dog hair left behind by my labrador retriever while I spend my time doing what I love: blogging about tech and IT trends.
While automation in the home is a welcome advancement, automated processes have also become deeply rooted in just about every industry worldwide. From business processes to manufacturing, automation is helping industries meet the heavy demand of today's society. But what does automation mean for sysadmins in charge of patch management? Let's take a look.
What is patch management?
Patch management is the process of distributing patches or updates to devices, systems, and software. Patches generally introduce new features, implement quality of life changes, or fix security vulnerabilities. Patch management is critical to an organization's security posture. Unpatched systems and devices can leave networks vulnerable to crippling cyberattacks, such as ransomware and malware.
What is automated patch management?
Automated patch management is the process of distributing patches automatically. Maybe that answer was a little too obvious, but automated patch management removes as much human interaction as possible from the process. Instead of sysadmins spending hours distributing patches manually, systems intelligently distribute patches to targeted devices automatically.
Why is patching important?
Cyber threats remain one of the most significant risks to organizations with a digital footprint, and every unpatched vulnerability is an open invitation for cybercriminals.
Vulnerabilities have always been a popular entry point for bad actors, but the problem is getting worse. According to the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, 35% of cyberattacks in 2021 leveraged vulnerabilities, surpassing phishing as the number one attack vector. In addition, 2021 was another record-breaking year for vulnerabilities, with over 20,000 vulnerabilities logged by the NIST NVD.
Many organizations invest heavily in modern security solutions, such as next-generation antivirus and endpoint detection and response. However, patching remains a crucial element of cybersecurity.
"The prominence of highly available CVEs that require limited technical skills to exploit and no user interaction is naturally a concern for security teams. Sadly, 2021 being a record-breaking year for vulnerabilities is in line with our expectations at the start of a year that has proved very difficult for security pros.
Cybercrime and security vulnerabilities are evolving all the time, and security teams are struggling to stay up-to-date. This milestone is also a reminder of the continued importance of patch management and defense in depth."
- George Glass, Head of Threat Intelligence, Redscan
What are the advantages of an automated patch management solution?
Automated patch deployment is an obvious win for sysadmins. IT teams are often drastically outnumbered by the devices and systems they manage. Automated patch management software radically reduces the resources required to meet the demands of their infrastructure.
Here are some of the most significant advantages of utilizing an automated patch management tool:
Ensures devices and systems are updated regularly.
Strengthens network security by rapidly patching security vulnerabilities.
Automatically downloads the latest patches from vendors.
Helps administrators quickly identify vulnerable systems.
Allows sysadmins time to focus their efforts on managing their networks and supporting their users.
What to look for in an automated patch manager
While automated patch management systems vary in design, each needs standard functionality to be truly automatic and effective.
Information gathering is one of the most critical steps of patch management, but it's often overlooked and undervalued. Without detailed and up-to-date information, there’s no way to identify which device or system needs to be updated.
Many automated patch management solutions regularly scan devices to collect information from systems and identify missing OS and application patches. Some solutions extend this functionality to return additional information, such as hardware and user details, to provide a more comprehensive view of endpoint data.
Another critical component of automated patch management solutions is the ability to download new patches from vendors automatically.
Generally speaking, downloading patches is a simple task. Most vendors make it easy to download the necessary patch files to keep their products updated. However, if you manage products from dozens of vendors, staying on top of patch releases can get challenging. You'll often fall behind on critical updates, where leaving a vulnerability unpatched could leave your network exposed to cyber risks. An automated patch management solution can eliminate this process by automatically downloading updates from vendors as soon as they become available.
One of the most convenient features of an automated patch management solution is prebuilt deployment packages.
Packages contain all the necessary steps, files, and information to ensure the successful distribution of an application or patch. Package requirements vary greatly. Some need little more than an install file, while others require extensive commands, prerequisites, undocumented switches, multiple success codes, and post steps. Process automation is a very welcome quality of life component.
Distributing packages is perhaps the heart of the automated patch management process. It is essential to ensure packages are distributed silently across your network with minimal downtown for your users.
An automated patch management solution gives you complete control of the distribution process. Administrators define policies, create schedules, and designate target collections. Once configured, distribution systems ensure endpoints are kept up to date as new patches become available.
Automated reporting is the last piece of the patch management puzzle. Patch management reports provide users with quick access to essential data. These reports help users quickly verify deployment results and identify patched and unpatched endpoints. Auto-generating and distributing reports ensures users always have the necessary information to keep their devices patched and their networks secure.
If you're interested in learning how to generate auto-reports in PDQ Inventory, we've got a guide that covers the process in detail. These reports will help track which security patches have been distributed, and every device which may have a missing patch.
How to choose the right automated patch management software for your organization
There are many patch management tools available. Finding one that meets the needs of your IT department and organization should not be taken lightly.
When looking at different solutions, ask yourself these questions:
Is the product truly automated?
Does it provide detailed, up-to-date information about your endpoints?
Does it automatically download OS and third-party patches?
Are the packages prebuilt and ready for deployment?
Does the product automatically distribute packages according to an easily defined user-generated policy?
Can it auto-generate reports to ensure you stay informed of your patching needs?
Does it strengthen your cybersecurity posture and help keep your users, data, and digital assets safe?
If you're looking for a patch management tool that meets all these requirements and more, then check out PDQ Deploy and PDQ Inventory. PDQ Deploy and Inventory can automate all of your software patch management needs, helping you deploy patches and eliminate vulnerabilities and secure your network. Test out a 14-day trial of PDQ Deploy and Inventory for free.