With thousands of new viruses, worms and other threats attacking your business' network and leaving it vulnerable over the past year, how can your small network administration team ensure that your employees are up to date with the latest security patches?

Adding more work to your overworked IT team (if you have one) isn't a great choice, and relying on users to keep their desktop PCs current is a risky bet.

Automating the process is the logical step and Symantec today announced an option designed to make patch updates a part of the daily business routine. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company that specializes in security software today announced version 1.1 of Symantec ON iPatch.

The announcement also unveils a new, broader distribution strategy. Until today the product had been sold only in conjunction with Symantec ON iCommand, a configuration management tool. Now it will be sold as a standalone product.

According to Symantec, ON iPatch is designed to help automate the patch management process by determining the patch status of computer systems, identifying missing Microsoft security patches and automatically installing them on individual computers, groups of computers or across the entire organization simultaneously.

''Patch management is a hot topic that dovetails with security concerns from viruses, worms and any type of hacker,'' said Thom Bailey, director of product management for Symantec's Enterprise Administration. Bailey said that ON iPatch is a viable solution for companies with from 50 PCs up to 2,000. However, the primary target is small and mid-size businesses running Microsoft Windows networks -- ''businesses that do not have the budget or the need for a large IT staff.''

Using the tool is ''incredibly easy,'' Bailey said. ''You install the product, do a sweep of environment, look for which PCs are missing which patches, get them and deploy them.'' One the attractive attribute's of Symantec ON iPatch is that it eliminates the need to install an agent on each computer.

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