Patch Management: Protecting Data and Productivity

Effective patch management helps safeguard your business from known exploits and unauthorized access, without sacrificing productivity.

Patch Management Basics:

  • Patch management is the practice of deploying firmware, driver, operating system (OS), and application updates to your computing endpoints.

  • Patch management is critical to keeping systems updated, reducing attack surfaces, and ensuring employee productivity.

  • Remote management capabilities available on the Intel vPro® platform can help simplify patch management and support remote workforces.

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Patch management helps IT teams eliminate bugs, promote productivity, and respond fast to known exploits. The Intel vPro® platform streamlines and simplifies patching with remote management capabilities that work whether systems are inside or beyond the firewall—offering enormous value for businesses with remote workers.

What Is Patch Management?

Patch management is the process of applying updates to software, drivers, and firmware to protect against vulnerabilities. Effective patch management also helps ensure the best operating performance of systems, boosting productivity.

Whether it’s an employee laptop or userless PC-based device, such as a kiosk or digital signage, all systems need to be secured. The risks of ignoring patch management can include exposing your business to leaks and breaches, loss of productivity, and loss of reputation.

Benefits: Why Is Patch Management Important?

The ultimate goal of patch management is to protect your endpoints from hackers and keep your systems running in top-notch shape. But patch management also confers a number of other benefits:

  • Promote productivity within the organization. Viewing patch management as a trade-off against productivity is a common misconception. Software that is well-managed with up-to-date patches works better and can help boost employee productivity.
  • Help lower the cost of device management and repair. Remote management tools are integral to patch management. These tools extend the capabilities of IT departments so administrators can repair devices remotely, reduce the frequency and cost of in-person visits, and extend the life cycle of devices. This is especially valuable for businesses that need to support remote workers.
  • Help meet laws, regulations, and compliance standards. Many businesses must satisfy local or federal regulations in protecting data. These may include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for patient records, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for personal information collected during customer interactions, and similar regulations.

Software that is well-managed with up-to-date patches works better and can help boost employee productivity.

Patch Management Best Practices

Here are a few steps that IT admins can take to lead patch management best practices in their organization:

  • Know that patch management is more than just updating the operating system (OS) and applications. Patch management extends to updating your hardware’s firmware and drivers. Threats to the full computing stack do exist, and Intel is taking an active role in helping you mitigate these vulnerabilities. Industry leadership is key, as Intel works directly with OEMs, software vendors, and operating system partners to ensure that firmware updates are incorporated into larger software patch deployments.
  • Routinize patch management. Make your patch management cycles known and predictable to your entire organization. With an established cadence, users can prepare for a patch cycle accordingly and lessen the impact it has on their productivity.
  • Patch in batches. This is also known as conducting a “soft launch” or “sandbox testing.” It is considered good practice to launch a patch to a small segment of users (around 5 percent) and evaluate the effects before a broad-scale launch to your entire user base.
  • Understand who is responsible for patch management. It’s typically the responsibility of the software or system provider to patch a known vulnerability. IT managers must ensure patches provided by OEMs and software vendors are deployed across the business network of systems and devices. At smaller businesses, patch management usually falls into the hands of the individual user. Most software is programmed to notify a user that it needs to be updated. It may even have the ability to update itself automatically at a prescheduled time.
  • Scale deployments with patch management systems. A patch management system is software specifically designed to help IT departments orchestrate and track patch versioning and deployments across a network. Intel® Manageability Commander (Intel® MC) plugs into Microsoft* System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) to enable Intel® Active Management Technology for use with enterprise PC fleets. This helps extend patch management capabilities and increases the availability of endpoint devices for patching.

Remote Management with the Intel vPro® Platform

The Intel vPro® platform delivers a suite of features for business-class PCs. It brings together high performance, hardware-enhanced security features, remote management capabilities, and PC fleet stability.

Intel® Active Management Technology, part of the Intel vPro® platform, offers a host of features to bolster patch management. IT departments can use the Alarm Clock feature to wake devices at scheduled times to apply patches, or verify upgrades through remote access using Keyboard, Video, Mouse (KVM) control. Storage redirection also enables IT technicians to apply updates and remediation through a mounted image file over the network, which simulates booting to a disk or USB flash drive on the endpoint device. These tools help save businesses costly trips to return compromised devices for in-person repair.

Remote work is here to stay, and businesses that want to remain flexible will need to plan for device patching and risk management both inside and outside the corporate firewall. Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA) extends the capabilities of Intel® Active Management Technology by helping provide a remote connection to Intel vPro® platform-enabled devices over the cloud.

Patch Management Is Essential to IT

Patch management is more benefit than burden. Having greater access and control over your devices, with the ability to patch and repair remotely, ultimately lends flexibility to your IT department and your business. While a lot of hazards are out there in the form of hackers and data thieves, patch management can help keep your business running smoothly.

Guarding Against Zero-Day Exploits

“Zero-day exploits” or “zero-day attacks” are vulnerabilities in your software or firmware that a hacker has figured out how to exploit before your organization discovers those vulnerabilities. Hardware-based security features can help prevent zero-day exploits by stopping malware from executing or affecting the software layer.

Intel® Control-Flow Enforcement Technology (Intel® CET) is a hardware capability that helps prevent control-flow hijacking attempts, a common malware behavior. Intel® Hardware Shield, a feature of the Intel vPro® platform, provides protection features against attacks below the OS, app and data protection capabilities, and advanced threat protection technology to help increase platform security. These features help secure devices against known and unknown threats, such as zero-day exploits.

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Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in your software or firmware that you have not yet discovered. Once you become aware of a vulnerability or exploit, you may use patch management to remove it.

In most businesses, the IT department will be responsible for keeping devices patched with updates provided by OEMs and software vendors. In smaller businesses, individual users may need to install their own patches.

Security Benefits of the Intel vPro® Platform

The built for business Intel vPro® platform provides hardware-enhanced security features that help protect all computing stack layers. Businesses can benefit from supply chain transparency and traceability of PC components, advanced memory scans, and hardware-based support of Windows* 10 security services. Furthermore, IT has the ability to quickly roll out software fixes on critical vulnerabilities to managed PCs.