Many small and medium-sized organizations have recently expanded their work-from-home policies, allowing their employees to work from remote locations at least certain days of the week.
Switching to the hybrid work model lets employees and employers alike enjoy a whole host of attractive benefits, such as less commute stress, better work-life balance, and an increased ability to attract and retain staff, but it’s not without challenges.
One challenge created by employees working remotely is keeping their devices updated to prevent data breaches caused by vulnerable software and crashes caused by unpatched bugs. Solving this challenge is a key to making hybrid work viable long-term.
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Patching is Critical for Managing Risk
Organizations of all sizes face many different risks, including data loss, which can occur for a variety of reasons, and patching directly addresses two of them:
- Cyber attacks: Cybercriminals are always looking for software vulnerabilities to exploit for various nefarious reasons, such as data theft extortion. In fact, 60 percent of data breaches in 2019 involved unpatched vulnerabilities, and the blurry IT network perimeter created by the switch to hybrid work will likely make the situation even worse.
- Software crashes: When a software application—let alone the entire operating system—decides to crash unexpectedly, unsaved work can be lost. Even when software crashes don’t result in data loss, they are still a major burden because they lead to a lot of wasted time.
But even though poor patching is a huge risk, a lot of organizations—both large and small—continue to rely on devices running outdated software. Why? Largely because they don’t understand what effective patch management process entails and are not familiar with the latest patch management tools.
Patch Management for the Hybrid Work Era
The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines patch management as the systematic notification, identification, deployment, installation, and verification of operating system and application software code revisions, known as patches, hotfixes, and service packs.
The most important word here is “systematic” because there are quite a few organizations that do install updates when they become available, but they don’t do so in a systematic manner, so it doesn’t take much for an unpatched device to go unnoticed for days, weeks, and even months.
For patch management to be systematic, it’s necessary to meet the following criteria:
- Complete visibility: Long gone are the days when all IT assets were conveniently located in the same building. These days, employees routinely work using a mix of personal and work devices, and keeping track of them is no easy task. Because end-users can’t be trusted with keeping their devices up to date, all patch management systems must be supported by a complete inventory of all patchable IT assets, including servers, desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, networking equipment, and others.
- High degree of automation: When employees work remotely, it’s not possible for an IT administrator to manually patch each and every device. Even if the administrator was able to access them remotely, there would still be the issue of deciding when it’s a good time to patch (remote employees don’t keep their devices turned on overnight, and they don’t like being interrupted while they work).
- Testing and verification: While the purpose of patches is to make software run better, the exact opposite may happen when patches are deployed without any testing and verification due to compatibility reasons or issues with patches themselves.
- Reporting: No patch management system is complete without reporting capabilities. By automatically generating patch reports, it becomes easy to see which patches failed to install and which devices are completely up to date. This information can be indispensable for compliance purposes because some patches, such as those that address microprocessor vulnerabilities known as Meltdown and Spectre, must be installed for compliance with regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Create a Systematic Patch Management System with a Trusted IT Partner
The creation of a systematic patch management system isn’t an insurmountable challenge, but it’s no easy feat either, especially if your goal is to update devices used by remote employees as well as on-premises IT assets.
To get it right without losing focus on your core business, it’s best to partner with a trusted provider of managed IT services, such as us at OSIbeyond.
We can help you craft an effective patch management policy to define how, under which conditions, and when patching occurs to provide a strong foundation for your patch management system. This system can be fully automatic and unified down to one pane of glass using modern patch management software.
The only thing left for you to do would be to familiarize your employees with the new patch management policy so they don’t knowingly or unknowingly prevent patches from being automatically installed.
If this way of keeping devices updated in the hybrid work era sounds attractive to you, don’t hesitate and schedule a free consultation with OSIbeyond right now.