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Patching is a critical part of systems administration. I don’t think anyone would argue that. But if your patching regimen consists of turning on Automatic Updates and calling it a day, or staying up until the middle of a Saturday night logging on to each server at a time to apply patches, you are missing the point. Patching is a task; patch management is how to perform that task easily, completely and in a scalable way. Patch management is vital to your information security because it is the only way to be sure you have taken care of all of the patching needs in your environment, and that you can audit and confirm that. Let’s look at some of the reasons why patch management is so important.

1. Patch management is about more than just operating systems
While it’s extremely important to ensure you have patched your operating systems, there are dozens of other applications out there that your users are running, which could be exploited by an infected attachment, a malicious script, and/or a compromised web page. Patch management applications can go beyond a Windows Update, addressing patches for operating systems, Microsoft and other third party applications, web browsers, media players and more. Patch management helps you ensure that no vulnerable apps are on your network.

2. Patch management is the most efficient way to handle both servers and workstations
You could probably manage to patch by hand all of your servers, and there’s a limited number of apps running on them, but trying to patch all your workstations and all the third party apps would be an impossible task without a patch management application to assess all the systems and their software, delivering those critical updates to each and every system that needs it. 100% compliance is the surest way to avoid incidents.

3. Patch management makes testing easy
Patching involves testing, and that’s why so many admins don’t patch regularly. They fear a patch might introduce an incompatibility, and would rather take their chances since they don’t have to time test. Patch management applications make it easy to push a patch to a group of systems for testing, before deploying to the rest of the network.

4. Patch management makes rollbacks easy
Sometimes, a patch needs to be rolled back, and doing that manually is out of the question. You are much more likely to deploy patches fully and on time if you can easily roll back if something turns out to be incompatible with a critical app, and a patch management application can uninstall patches from any or all systems just as easily as it can push them out.

5. Patch management makes reporting easy
One of the scariest things about relying on Automatic Updates is that you have no idea whether or not systems are actually patched, until you check them, one by one. With a patch management application, you can quickly and easily run reports to confirm that critical update for the zero day exploit really did get out to all your servers and workstations, and if one was missed, you can immediately identify and remediate it, before something bad happens.

Patch management is not a silver bullet. It won’t stop users from sharing passwords and it cannot prevent an admin from leaving a default configuration in place, but what it will do is enable you to keep your workstations, servers and critical applications up-to-date, fully patched and as secure as possible from hackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities in the software. That way you can spend more time on training users and verifying configs, and less time running around trying to update Flash for the tenth time this year.

This guest post was provided by Casper Manes on behalf of GFI Software Ltd. GFI is a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs. Learn more about the right patch management solution.