Your 8-step patch management audit checklist, made easy

Overhead view of a car driving on a bridge as a metaphor for keeping IT infrastructure running smoothly with a patch management audit checklist


#GoToGetsIT: This article is part of an ongoing series from GoTo’s thought leaders on the frontlines: Our Solutions Consultants deeply understand our customers’ unique challenges and connect the right solutions to meet their goals using GoTo technology. Here, they share their industry knowledge on what it takes to help businesses everywhere thrive in a remote or hybrid world.

Imagine driving a car you adore on an open highway. The engine is humming, the breeze passing by is cool and crisp, and everything feels just right. Now imagine not having performed routine maintenance on the vehicle, such as oil changes, tire rotations, and inspections. Suddenly, your ride turns from smooth to rocky and full of unpleasant surprises. That’s the importance of routine maintenance – and in the case of your computer’s health and performance, patch management.

Patch management is your organization's routine maintenance for its IT infrastructure. Inadequate patch management can leave your IT systems vulnerable and your journey rocky. Software and hardware that is routinely updated is your first line of defense against potential cybersecurity threats. However, just as your automobile requires periodic maintenance, your patch management program requires periodic audits. This article will help you navigate the critical steps of a patch management audit, illustrating how a comprehensive tool can be essential in this process.

1. Examine your patch management strategy

Consider your patch management strategy to be your GPS. It should align with the security objectives and compliance requirements of your organization. For example, a financial institution dealing with sensitive customer data may prioritize patches that address vulnerabilities affecting data integrity and confidentiality. A powerful tool can facilitate the streamlining of policy enforcement, ensuring that your policy remains up to date and serves as a trustworthy guide.

When reviewing your patch management policy, consider your organization's particulars. Suppose you are the IT administrator that handles sensitive customer data. In this situation, it may be prudent to prioritize patches that address vulnerabilities affecting the confidentiality and integrity of data. For example: “Critical security patches must be applied to systems containing customer financial data within 48 hours of their release.” Does your current policy reflect this priority? If not, an update may be necessary.

2. Define the roles and responsibilities of your team

A diverse team is required for a successful patch management process, just as a car requires a driver, a mechanic, and passengers. From IT administrators to compliance officers, each member has a distinct function. Using an appropriate tool, you can ensure clear communication and assignment of tasks, keeping everyone on the same page, like a well-coordinated pit crew.

Patch management is not a solo act. As an IT leader, you must ensure that each member of your team is aware of their role in the process. For example, your IT administrators may oversee the deployment of patches, but are they also responsible for keeping track of which patches have been applied? If not, then who? These responsibilities must be clearly defined and communicated for effective patch management.

3. Analyze your patch management software

IT security is analogous to automobile maintenance in that a well-stocked toolbox is essential. You need tools that provide real-time information about vulnerabilities, support automation, and integrate seamlessly with your other security tools. A comprehensive solution can enhance your capabilities while securing and updating your systems.

The appropriate tools can make or break a patch management system. Suppose you are utilizing a tool that provides vulnerability information in real-time. That’s great visibility, but what about automation to resolve known issues immediately and integration with additional security tools? If your current tool does not support these features, it may be time to upgrade to a more robust option.

4. Evaluate patching frequency and coverage

Regular patching is like a routine oil change for a vehicle. The optimal patching frequency can be determined by analyzing historical patching data and comparing it to industry standards. Also, ensure that patches cover all systems, just as a mechanic checks the engine and tires when servicing a car. An efficient instrument can aid in maintaining optimal patching frequency and coverage.

Regular patching is essential, but you must also consider the scope of your patches. As an IT administrator, you may observe that certain systems are frequently overlooked during patch deployments. These systems may not be included in your automatic patching process, or they may be running software that the vendor no longer supports. The patch management process can be significantly enhanced by identifying and addressing these gaps.

5. Examine the procedure for testing patches

Before applying patches to production systems, they must be rigorously tested, comparable to test-driving a car after repairs. Developing a rigorous testing protocol that includes functional, compatibility, and security tests can aid in the prevention of unforeseen problems. A comprehensive tool can guarantee that only well-tested patches are deployed, thereby reducing the likelihood of "breakdowns."

Before applying patches to production systems, exhaustive testing is essential. Perhaps a recent patch has caused a problem in your production environment. Investigation reveals that the issue did not manifest during testing because the test environment did not replicate the production environment accurately. This demonstrates the need to reevaluate and enhance your patch testing procedure.

6. Examine the patch installation procedure

The patch deployment process should be consistent, automated, and straightforward to audit. Documenting your entire patch deployment process can make it efficient and repeatable, just as a detailed manual guides a mechanic through a repair. A powerful tool can streamline your patch deployment process, making it as seamless as a Grand Prix pit stop.

As an IT administrator, you may discover that patches frequently fail to install on specific systems. Perhaps these systems are powered down during the scheduled deployment, or perhaps the deployment tool itself is malfunctioning. Reviewing and refining your deployment process can help you avoid these issues in the future; however, if you lack the necessary manpower, you may need to consider a more tenacious tool that can circumvent these common obstacles.

7. Verify patch compliance

Maintaining compliance is not always simple. Assume you are the IT director of a healthcare provider and that your organization must adhere to HIPAA regulations. You discover that a recent patch related to the security of patient data was not installed on all relevant systems, putting your organization at risk of noncompliance. This emphasizes the significance of incorporating regular compliance checks into your patch management audit.

Compliance with legal requirements is as important in information technology as it is on the road. Noncompliance with regulations such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR can result in fines, just as speeding can. Compliance can be maintained with the assistance of a comprehensive tool that automates patch deployment and documentation.

8. Examine patch monitoring

Your company should have a strategy in place to keep an eye out for new security threats and be prepared to update the software as threats are found. You can use many sources to stay aware of current threats such as monitoring software developer forums and security blogs as well as the proactive monitoring features of your RMM tool.

Ready, set, patch

Following this guide and utilizing an effective patch management tool will significantly improve your organization's patch management process, just as routine maintenance ensures a smooth car ride. Remember that patch management, like vehicle maintenance, is a journey with no endpoint. It requires vigilance, the proper equipment, and a team that is aware of their roles and responsibilities.

This is the role of GoTo Resolve. Resolve provides comprehensive patch management capabilities that can assist you in navigating the patch management landscape, much like a reliable mechanic with the right tools. It enables clear communication, supports policy enforcement, provides real-time vulnerability information, maintains optimal patching frequency and coverage, and enables thorough patch testing and efficient deployment.

In addition, GoTo Resolve can help you maintain compliance by automating patch deployment and documentation, ensuring that you remain within the IT compliance "speed limits." A successful patch management audit requires a comprehensive approach, consistent monitoring, and the appropriate tools. By adhering to these steps, you can transform your patch management process from a potentially "bumpy ride" to a smooth and secure journey, thereby ensuring the IT security and integrity of your organization. Happy patching!

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