Key Considerations for macOS Patch Management

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on March 14, 2022

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macOS, just like every other operating system or software, needs regular updates. There is always a need to improve performance, patch vulnerabilities, fix bugs, add or remove certain features, and refine usability. 

In this article, we will explore the common challenges, considerations for implementation, and reasons why you need a defined process for macOS patch management.

What Is Patch Management?

The process of regularly keeping the macOS operating system and apps updated is known as patch management. With patch management, you are effectively coordinating the deployment of software patches or updates on your operating systems.

It generally involves managing your endpoints by compiling a list of their current OS version via a scan, downloading the missing patches, testing, and rolling them out into the production environment for deployment.

You can patch macOS in two ways. The first way is to deploy patches manually. You can do this by going to System Preferences > Software Update on your Mac and checking for new updates. If your macOS is current, you will see a message that the system is up to date. However, if there are updates available for installation, you will see a message that allows you to install the update immediately or sometime later. 

The second way to patch macOS is to automate the process. To accomplish this, you will need patch management software. A good patch management software solution will provide visibility and clarity into the current state of your operating system, as well as browsers and applications. Automated patch management can help you monitor for missing patches, deploy and schedule them as needed, and provide status updates with minimal effort.

Who Needs macOS Patch Management?

Patching any OS is a crucial security function that all IT teams must perform at some level, and is absolutely required for any fleet. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for unpatched assets, and a single missing patch can create an organization-wide security issue. Therefore, irrespective of the size of your organization, you need to implement an effective patch management process

This will help you discover new patches and updates, apply critical fixes immediately, and schedule those that are of lesser importance for a more convenient time. Not only will patch management enhance the security of your computing environment, but it will also ensure your systems work properly and prevent errors and vulnerabilities that can disrupt business operations.

Challenges in Patch Management

Some of the challenges you may face during the patch management process include the following:

1. Patching Manually

If you choose to deploy your macOS patch management manually, you will have to face the fact that manual deployment is tedious, prone to error, and time-consuming. For instance, if you need to download and then install a patch on every single MacBook in your fleet, imagine the time and bandwidth required to address each computer individually. Patch management automation can easily address this challenge with the right solution in place. 

2. Scheduling Installations

When implementing a patch management process across your organization, you need to be sure to plan the patching to occur at the right time. You do not want to disrupt your system users when they are carrying out important tasks. You also need to know roughly how long an update will take. Therefore, in addition to understanding how to remotely install patches, an IT admin must also figure out how best to schedule installations without disrupting end users.

3. Knowing Which Patches to Deploy

Prioritization is an important challenge in patch management — you may be faced with so many patches that you need to prioritize them, deploy critical patches only, and manage the deferment of the rest. You will also need to consider cascading update dependencies. For bigger patches, such as operating system updates, you may intentionally decide to defer them to ensure there are no major incompatibilities or bugs right out of the gate.

4. Managing Multiple Operating Systems

Are there fleets out there that are 100% macOS? Yes, however most organizations use multiple operating systems and have at least some Windows or Linux systems in addition to macOS devices. For these heterogeneous IT environments, a comprehensive patch management solution should provide coverage for all of those systems equally.

Key Considerations for Patch Implementation on macOS

Configure Patch Notifications

Unlike Microsoft which provides patch updates on Tuesdays, Apple doesn’t have a standardized patching schedule for its macOS security or feature update releases. MacOS admins need to consistently check their devices for patch availability; otherwise, they may get a patch at a later date than required. To address this issue, IT admins can sign up for Apple’s public security notifications and announcements mailing list. You will receive an automatically generated email each time a patch is released for macOS.

Align macOS Versions

The more varied the macOS versions used across your organizations, the higher level of risk you’ll need to manage. It also creates unnecessary administrative overhead. Therefore, it is best practice to choose a single version (with few exceptions) of macOS and keep that version up to date with patches across your fleet.

Test Patches Before Applying Across the Board

As you may already know, sometimes a patch can cause unintended issues. To protect your users from surprises, it is a good idea to apply the patch, initially, to a small subset of your fleet as a test group to ensure there are no major problems.

JumpCloud’s macOS Patch Management Solution

There are several cloud solutions you can leverage to automate your macOS patch management process, but only one that is also combined with comprehensive identity and access management capabilities: the JumpCloud Directory Platform

Whether you need detailed system insights or granular policy control for macOS, Windows, or Linux devices, our cloud directory platform can help you achieve your goals. IT admins can leverage our directory-integrated patch management feature to:

  • Gain visibility into the patch status of all devices, regardless of operating system
  • Automate and enforce specific rollout schedules for macOS and Windows
  • Strengthen security posture and streamline compliance reporting 

To learn more about the device management philosophy that drives our product roadmap and feature releases for Linux, Mac, and Windows systems, click on the banner below.  

JumpCloud

The Five Key Components of Modern Device Management

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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