Patching – 10 Steps to Seal the Holes in Your Armor

by | May/15/2017

You’ve likely heard of the massive ransomware attack that has taken down so many organizations, including hospitals, around the world. The ransomware appears to have exploited a bug for which Microsoft released a fix a little over a month ago. Follow these 10 steps to help protect your organization from this, and from future attacks:

Instructions for Windows and Apple home users are listed below the numbers. For organizations, here are 10 Steps To Avoid Incidents Including the Massive Ransomware Attack:

1. The reality is that most organizations are missing critical security patches and there is a very strong likelihood that yours is too.

2. Provide your team with extra time, and perhaps additional personnel, to test and then deploy patches ASAP. Some organizations are adding a new IT professional to their team whose sole responsibility is to manage patches. If the patch fails testing, then time must be invested to resolve the issue or implement compensating controls.

3. Prioritize critical security patches for the operating system, all the browsers, Flash, Java, your PDF Reader, and Microsoft Office. They are usually the easiest to attack and form your first line of defense.

4. Many IT teams are very reluctant to apply patches for fear of breaking your systems that are already running. Help remove their fears by reassuring them that you take on responsibility if the patch causes a problem. Encourage them to follow a procedure that mitigates risks:

5. Test Patches in a test environment that uses the same applications as the rest of your network. For very small companies, your test environment might be a single computer. For larger organizations, and organizations that stand to lose a great deal in the event of an attack, create a separate testing environment that is isolated from the production environment.

6. Have a pre-tested rollback plan so that, if the patch does cause a problem, your IT team will already know what they need to do right away to roll back a patch that causes an unexpected problem. They will then go back to the testing phase.

7. Deploy the patches in stages rather than patching all machines simultaneously. That way, even if the patch does cause a problem, not all your machines will be affected.

8. You may decide to empower your IT team with a patch management tool such as Ninite, LANGuard, Shavlik, or others. Allow them to test and choose a tool, and provide them with the means and time to do so, ASAP.

9. Ask IT, perhaps weekly and at least monthly, to provide you with a list of missing patches, not a pie chart.

10. You must upgrade from older operating systems, any of the ones that Microsoft no longer supports. If some machines cannot be upgraded, then they must be isolated or some other compensating control put into place. Microsoft clearly states when they stop producing patches for old operating systems.  So, there was no patch available for Windows XP and others.

Call me if they are not able to apply patches. Let’s team up to help prevent this.

At home, or if your organization is so small that you do not have an IT team or have an outsourced IT company that takes care of your patches, be sure that the option that provides automatic updates to Microsoft is enabled. The instructions are easy to find – just google the phrase: configure automatic updates

Apple computer users, google: Automatic security updates os x

iPhone and iPad users, google: Automatic security downloads ios

Additionally, manually check for updates in Microsoft Office to be sure those are applied. Be sure that automatic updates are enabled in your browsers. Regularly download and apply patches to, or new versions of, Flash, Java, and your PDF reader.

Please forward this to everyone you care about and want to help stay secure.