Best practices for an OT patch management program

By Prayukth K V
May 18, 2023

Having an OT Patch management program is critical from a security and operational perspective for industries in manufacturing or critical infrastructure. A comprehensive patch management program is an integral part of an organization’s overall risk management (and mitigation) strategy. It not only helps identify and prioritize vulnerabilities, and assess their potential impact on operations but also enables organizations to design and implement appropriate actions to remedy the associated risks. Effective patch management minimizes the likelihood of successful cyberattacks and thereby helps maintain the integrity and availability of OT systems.

Here are 10 best practices that Sectrio recommends for ensuring the success of your OT patch management program:

Plan and implement a patch management process

Develop a formal patch management process specifically tailored for OT systems. Define roles, responsibilities, and procedures for evaluating, testing, and deploying patches.

Prioritize patching as part of your overall operations

Assess the criticality of each patch and prioritize the deployment based on the severity of vulnerabilities, potential impact on operations, and the availability of vendor-supplied patches. This will ensure the deployment of critical patches on priority.

Test patches thoroughly

OT environments often come with complex, layered, and interconnected systems spilling over into the IT environment. It is therefore advisable to perform comprehensive testing in a controlled environment (closely resembling the production environment) to ensure compatibility, stability, and functionality. Respective OEMs for selective OT devices or systems can help in this regard.

Maintain system inventory

Maintenance of accurate inventory of all OT assets, including hardware devices, software, and firmware is essential. Capture as much information as possible in this inventory including details such as date of addition, last patch update, criticality, OEM information and legacy information. This inventory helps in identifying the systems that require patching and tracking the status of deployed patches.

Built strong vendor relationships

Establish strong relationships with OT system vendors and make them partners in your patch management efforts. Make a proactive effort to stay informed about the latest security patches and updates through communication with the vendor. Engage vendors for technical support and assistance during the patching process to ensure the smooth functioning of critical systems before, during, and after patching.

Secure network segmentation

Network micro segmentation should be deployed to isolate critical OT systems from corporate or external networks. This practice reduces the attack surface and helps contain the impact of potential vulnerabilities and compromises 

Also Read: How to get started with OT security

Deploy tested backup and recovery plans

Prioritize regular backups of OT system configurations and data as part of your disaster recovery and business continuity plan. In case a patch leads to unexpected issues, having backups available enables faster recovery while minimizing downtime.

Develop and publish change management procedures

integrate patch management strategically into your overall change management process. Make sure that all patches are deployed in a controlled, studied, and documented manner, with approvals, change tracking, and rollback plans. Such practices can be tested to improve efficiency.

Consider redundancy

OT systems often operate in environments that require high availability. You should therefore consider redundancy and failover mechanisms to minimize disruptions during patch deployment. Such a plan can involve redundant systems, clustering, or ‘hot’ standby configurations.

Plan for, monitor, and maintain situational awareness

keep an eye-on-the-glass view and continuously monitor OT systems for vulnerabilities, risks, and emerging threats. Stay updated with security advisories, specific threat information, industry forums, and vendor notifications to proactively address risks.

Review, audit, and improve

No patch management program can be fully effective without having a provision for constant improvement through feedback. Conduct periodic reviews and audits of the patch management process to determine areas of improvement, ensure compliance with policies and regulations, and verify the effectiveness of deployed patches.

Bonus Tips from Sectrio

Track vulnerabilities on a centralized console

Use a centralized OT patch management solution or an OT security solution that tracks patches and CVEs.

OT Patch management solution: Getting a Buy-In

Help key stakeholders understand the need for a comprehensive program to get a buy-in into the program

Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC)

Weave the OT Patch Management Program into your institutional cybersecurity practices and policies across your plants. Tie in and actively track your compliance against various mandates such as NIST SP-800-82r2 or IEC 62443

How Sectrio can help you?

Developing and running an effective patch management program is not easy. This is why you need help from our certified OT security consultants who can help you device, test, and run a comprehensive OT security program. Reach out to learn more.

Sectrio’s OT security solution also comes with a powerful vulnerability management module that can help you track patches, emerging vulnerabilities, and CVEs effortlessly. Connect with our OT security analyst for a quick demo.

Try our OT-specific cyber threat intelligence feeds to stay ahead of emerging threats.   

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