A Consistent Patching Process is Vital to the Security of your Church Technology Network
Humans are fantastic examples of God’s creativity and design. As evidence of this fact, humans are capable of creating magnificent, complicated masterpieces like beautiful works of art or…computer software. Yep, computer software. You may never have considered computer software in the same vein as a beautiful work of art. Just like art, computer software can be full of nuance, intricacy, and elaborate details. However, as helpful and connected as software is to almost every modern human activity, problems exist within every piece of software.
A Universal Problem with a Universal Source
Even the very highest quality software is flawed. Why? Because humans create software. And humans, no matter how intelligent and disciplined, aren’t perfect. And this imperfection shows up in the things we create. Universally, humans make mistakes, regardless of their area of endeavor or work. We observe these mistakes in all that we do, whether we are considering disciplines as seemingly unrelated as art and software. Art experts will tell you, for example, that even the most masterful works of art include slight imperfections. Computer software is no different. Every piece of software ever written, no matter how intricate and brilliantly designed, has at least some imperfections, or “bugs.”
Why is an Effective Patching Strategy and Process Necessary?
Software developers (computer programmers) are well aware that they aren’t perfect. And like most professionals, they take pride in their work. So, when they find bugs in their software code, they create updates to correct the defects. These updates are also known as software patches. Every day, software developers and users find new bugs, and programmers develop patches to fix those bugs.
In our experience with churches over the last 20 years, it is clear that church technology staff long to be good stewards of the technology and data assets under their care. Because no software designed to enable ministry is perfect, church IT staff must implement effective patching strategies and processes. This is increasingly important from a security standpoint, given the efforts by hackers to exploit technology infrastructure and steal or misappropriate the identities of those who attend or interact with our churches. It is clear to all that cybercriminals are becoming more determined and creative. As such, software developers have had to become more thorough in closing potentially destructive “holes” not initially regarded as “bugs.”
Some bugs are minor and never cause visible problems. In the development of sophisticated, detailed software, developers will make some small mistakes that merely need to be “cleaned up.” Other bugs are more severe and can lead to data corruption or application crashes (who doesn’t love a good bluescreen now and then?). Fixing these types of bugs will improve the performance, speed, and reliability of your computer systems. Finally, some bugs can be downright dangerous and harmful. These types of bugs cause vulnerabilities that enable malicious attackers to access data they shouldn’t be able to see. These bugs can also allow cybercriminals to install malicious software onto a computer that can encrypt all of your data. At that point, you may have no way to view or retrieve it.
Cyber Crime Demands Rigorous Patching
In today’s technology landscape, security vulnerabilities (bugs) are top-of-mind for everyone. It seems like every week we hear about a new data set that has been stolen or compromised. It might shock you to learn that in nearly every one of these situations, the method used by the hackers was the same. The hackers obtained access to the data via well-known software bugs for which patches already existed but were never applied! In these cases, the IT administrators had simply not applied the readily available software patches to their systems. Had they done so, they would have significantly reduced the likelihood of the compromise of their computer systems.
So, why should church technology administrators work hard to enable a process that ensures that they consistently and effectively patch their systems? To protect them from the bugs and vulnerabilities that are already well-known and being used by hackers every single day. Hackers are smart, but they’re also lazy. If they can keep exploiting known issues without doing any extra work or research, they will, of course, take the easy route. So, let’s not make things easy for hackers! Let’s be sure we’re applying software patches from all of our vendors, e.g., Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Google, etc.
Consistency, Thoroughness, and Tact are Vital for your Patching Process
Patching must be an “all the time thing,’” not a “sometimes, random thing.” At Enable Ministry Partners, we take the process of consistent, current patching very seriously. We continuously monitor vendor announcements and IT industry news outlets for information on new software updates and patches that fix bugs. But even still, patching must be done with a careful process and plan in mind.
For example, our Mac users are usually chomping at the bit to upgrade and install major operating system patches the very day they are released. This eagerness to upgrade can have adverse effects. Indeed, new operating system versions or patches often come with much-publicized and feature enhancements. But it is also true that in many cases, the new patch will break other software that you rely on and are using. Typically, there is a short period after the release of a significant patch or new operating system where the effects of the patch require that the developers patch the patch! This is called a maintenance release. It is usually best to wait until a major patch has received its first maintenance release before applying it to your machine.
Enable’s Basic Patching Strategy
For major operating system patches from Microsoft and Apple, we perform monthly tests of these new updates by studying the published information and then deploying them on a small sample group of the multiple systems used throughout our clients’ environments. We then carefully monitor the impact and effectiveness of these patches. And finally, once we’re satisfied that the new patches cause no harm, we proceed with the broad deployment of the patches across the thousands of systems Enable maintains for our clients.
Then the next month we do it all over again!
Due to the innate human fallibility of software developers and the unceasing efforts of cybercriminals and hackers, implementing an effective and consistent patching strategy is non-negotiable. A robust patching process is vital for church technology staff who long to be good stewards of the ministry-enabling technology under their care.
If you have any questions about the patching process or how to implement a patching strategy for maximum effect, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]. We are always eager to serve churches by helping them employ technology in a way that enables ministry.
Written By: Travis Phipps, Director of Technology, Enable Ministry Partners