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OT Patch Management: A Step-by-Step Guide

Your Guide for OT Patching Success

Operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS) environments pose unique challenges for keeping systems secure. Specialized equipment, limited resources, and strict compliance requirements often lead to unpatched systems, leaving your organization vulnerable.

To address these complexities, we’ve developed a streamlined end-to-end patch management process. 

In this blog post, we'll cover:

By the end of this post, you’ll understand the unique complexities of OT patch management, learn about a proven end-to-end solution for simplified patching, and be equipped to implement best practices for securing your OT environment.

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What is OT Patch Management?

OT patch management is the process of identifying, sourcing, testing, deploying, and documenting software updates (patches) to operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS).

Key goals of OT patch management are to:
  • Close security vulnerabilities: Patches fix weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers.
  • Improve system functionality: Updates often resolve bugs or add performance enhancements.
  • Meet regulatory compliance: Many industries have standards for patching critical systems (e.g., NERC CIP for power utilities).

OT Patching Challenges

Patching seems deceptively simple, but in reality, it poses enormous challenges for OT environments. So much so, it’s often the most time-consuming and burdensome task for industries like power utilities when it comes to regulatory compliance.

Why is OT patch management so difficult? Here’s a breakdown of the key factors:
  • Visibility Gaps: Automatic inventory and monitoring of OT systems are often impossible with traditional tools. This means not knowing exactly what needs patching.
  • Patch Overload: Tracking and sourcing patches for a wide range of specialized systems and applications becomes a logistical nightmare.
  • Specialized Expertise: Reviewing, approving, and deploying patches often requires deep OT knowledge to avoid unintended consequences.
  • Testing Constraints: Meticulous patch testing is essential to prevent disruptions to critical systems, but dedicated test environments may not exist.
  • Deployment Hurdles: Patches must be carefully deployed to diverse devices, often on individual schedules.
  • Compliance Overhead: Documenting every change and ensuring adherence to regulations adds another layer of complexity.

These challenges make traditional IT patch management methods fall short in OT environments. To address this, we’ve created a six-step, end-to-end patching process. Our Verve Security Center (VSC) software and Verve Engineering Services give you the tools and expertise to overcome these obstacles. This integrated solution simplifies the process, saving time, increasing accuracy, and ensuring your systems remain secure and compliant.

Watch on Demand:
Navigating the Difficulties of Patching OT

Patching seems basic, but OT environments make it extremely complex and time-consuming, especially for regulated industries like power. Our on-demand webinar shows how to automate patch management, prioritize vulnerabilities, and scale your efforts globally – all while ensuring local system control. Simplify your patching and achieve compliance with confidence.

OT Patch Management: Our 6-Step Workflow

We’ve developed a streamlined, six-step patch management workflow to conquer OT complexity. Our Verve Security Center software and Verve Engineering Services (remote or on-site) significantly reduce the time and effort required. This integrated approach simplifies patching, enhances quality, and ensures you’re always compliance-ready.

Step 1: Establish OT Asset Inventory Baseline

A robust OT asset inventory is the foundation of effective patch management. We help you identify all assets, locations, and installed software. Many organizations struggle with this, especially for non-Windows systems that are common in OT environments.

Verve’s solution delivers 100% visibility with a combination of agent-based tools and our unique Agentless Device Interface (ADI). This comprehensive approach works even in challenging OT environments, ensuring nothing gets left unpatched. Our cost-effective, software-based solution eliminates the need for additional hardware.

patch management process

Read the White Paper: Technology-Enabled Vulnerability Assessment

Discover how technology-enabled assessments prioritize security gaps and remediation, saving time and costs for industrial organizations.

Step 3: Match Patches to the Right Assets

A major challenge in patching is figuring out which assets need which specific updates. It’s easy to collect a list of available patches, but matching them to the correct devices in your OT network can be a time-consuming nightmare.

VSC solves this with automatic filtering. You tell VSC which assets are in scope for a particular patch, and it sorts them accordingly. This sorting can be based on any device characteristic: operating system, NERC CIP criticality, or any other attribute that matters to you.

This powerful filtering saves enormous amounts of time, letting you quickly determine which patches apply to which systems.

Step 4: Review, Approve, and Manage Patches

Traditional patch management often involves multiple tools and disjointed processes. Verve Industrial streamlines this by integrating approvals and actions directly within the VSC.

Users create baselines within VSC for approved and unapproved patches, and these baselines can even reflect specific vendor approvals. Dashboards automatically filter to show only approved patches, eliminating the need to manually track which updates are ready for deployment. You can create as many baselines as needed for flexible patch organization.

Learn More About Verve's Patch Management Solution

Discover Verve's end-to-end approach for visibility, efficiency, and peace of mind in OT patching.

Learn More

Step 5: Test and Deploy Patches

Thorough patch testing is crucial but often difficult in OT settings due to time constraints. Verve ensures your patches are authentic and vendor-approved.

VSC allows you to programmatically deploy patches across supported devices (Windows/Unix/Linux) directly from the console. For initial testing, schedule deployment to just a few low-risk assets. If issues arise, the update is automatically rolled back. You can schedule wider rollouts at your convenience.

Additional controls include rebooting options, on-device messages, and retry configurations. [Note: Automatic deployment is recommended in controlled circumstances only.]

For devices where automatic patching isn’t possible, our experienced engineers provide on-site patch deployment. Their extensive OT equipment knowledge and testing experience ensure a smooth process. Many clients find it beneficial to have Verve handle the deployment of approved patches, freeing up their staff for core operational tasks.

Step 6: Documentation and Compliance

Documenting system changes before and after patching is a tedious but essential compliance task. Verve Security Center automates this process, saving you time and ensuring accuracy.

For agent-based systems, any changes are instantly flagged. Our Agentless Device Interface does the same for the majority of your OT network, even devices like relays and PLCs that are difficult to monitor. Easily run a baseline report after updates to confirm that everything is patched correctly.

Finally, Verve’s services team helps you gather these baseline changes and integrate them directly into your regulatory workflows and cybersecurity reporting. This eliminates manual data entry and ensures you’re always compliance-ready.

Simplify OT/ICS Patch Management: The Verve Solution

OT patch management may seem simple at first glance, but the unique complexities of these environments make it a daunting task. Without the right tools, patching becomes labor-intensive, error-prone, and a major security risk. This jeopardizes both system reliability and regulatory compliance.

That’s why Verve Industrial has developed a comprehensive end-to-end patch management solution. Our innovative technology and expert services streamline every step of the process. From identifying vulnerabilities to deploying and documenting patches, we eliminate manual work and ensure accuracy.

The result? Drastically reduced patching time, improved cybersecurity, and effortless compliance. Our flexible, scalable solution adapts to your specific OT environment, regardless of size or complexity.

Ready to Experience the Verve Difference?
Request a demo and see how we can transform your OT patch management.

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