Seven steps for a patch management process

A patch management process can be never-ending. In the last few years, virulent codes such as Code Red, Nimda, Nachi, SoBig, Blaster and Slammer have hammered networks. Many of these malicious programs had patches available long before the exploit code was released. Introduce these to a small or midmarket business, and you've got big-time problems, with little resources to fix them.

Patch management takes a lot of time to set up, and it's not cheap. However, it's well worth the investment up front. Here are some guidelines for implementing a

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patch management process.

  1. Develop a complete network inventory. Create a list of what systems run what software. This may take some time, but the results will be worth it.

  2. Implement a change control policy. An inventory list is effective only if you can track and control changes to your network.

  3. Monitor for new vulnerabilities and patches that are available for the inventory you've identified.

  4. Test the patches. Develop a well-defined deployment process. If you can't afford a lab, try to duplicate mission-critical processes.

  5. Include when and where patches are deployed in your inventory control system.
  6. Make a list of sites that you can use to review the latest vulnerabilities. Several sites worth checking out are Microsoft; Mitre; CERT and the National Vulnerability Database.
  7. Look into the various software tools that help organize a patch management process. Vendors such as BigFix, CA Inc., Configuresoft, IBM, Microsoft, Shavlik Technologies and St. Bernard Software are just some of the companies that offer these tools.

Michael Gregg has been involved in IT and network security for more than 15 years. His current responsibilities include performing security assessments and evaluations for corporate and government entities. He has served as the developer of high-level security classes, contributed to several books and study guides and has taught classes for many Fortune 500 companies.

This was first published in February 2005

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