Archive for May, 2010

What is a security patch and why is it important?

What is a security patch, and why is it important? A security patch is a small program that updates a larger program with the goal of sealing off a vulnerability that can allow the program to be attacked. There are many possible ways a program can be attacked. In some cases, the security patch will block a denial of service. Generally reserved for high profile sites, denial of service attacks can also victimize individual computers. The attack generally causes the intended program to not function, or denies you from access to the network or internet. As new ways for hackers to accomplish this are discovered, a security patch is written and released to repair the opening that could allow an attack.

Other holes repaired by a security patch are ones that allow a hacker to assume some aspect of control over a computer, either by access to files and personal data, or even the ability to view what is happening on your screen and execute programs. The exploits are often distributed by trojans, which are malicious programs similar to viruses but require a user to execute them in order to infect the machine. A security patch will close holes that trojans take advantage of. The trojan can still be launched and still infect the system, however, the security patch will prevent it from operating as the hacker intended. It will not be able to perform the malicious function that it was designed to do.

Keeping all your programs updated to the latest security patch level is vital. So much focus is put on virus protection software that sometimes maintaining security patch levels falls behind. Virus updates are also important, but not all attacks come in the form of a viral infection. Keeping up with the latest security patch for your applications and your operating system will keep your computer well rounded in its security.

Protect your network through strict security patch management

With so many applications able to check for and install updates with little or no user intervention, it becomes too easy to be complacent and assume that all needed patches are in place. The key word in security patch management is management; an application that is depended upon to make its own decisions regarding patch acquisition is considered unmanaged and falls outside the scope of most security patch management policies. The intent of having a security patch management policy in place is to ensure that all patchable operating systems and programs are at the highest patch level possible, which decreases the risk of of downtime for individual computer systems or the network in general.

Without using a security patch management tool, the only assurance that all machines connected to your network are updated is an assumption based on the fact that the systems were configured to automatically download and install patches when they were newly deployed. There is no statistical evidence to prove what has been patched and to what level; most policies are audited periodically, and without security patch management being controlled by a specialty server that deploys patches and generates reports, there would be no way to establish that the IT department is following procedure.

Hence, the implementation of a security patch management system is a wise choice for most businesses. Even an open source, no cost application is better than the cross your fingers method of security patch management. Being certain that all systems are patched by security patch management makes certain that the machine is secure, that the corporate network is safe and that the IT staff has a way of demonstrating that the computers they manage indeed are compliant with corporate policy. Security patch management plays a small but vital role in the overall security scheme for a corporate network.

Secure your network with a solid patch management policy

As the size of your body of managed systems grows, implementing a patch management policy become crucial to ensure the safety and security of your systems. Allowing computers to run updates automatically and outside of the control of the IT department may work is a smaller environment, but as the number of computers approaches a medium to large scale, having a patch management policy in place is of utmost importance. A patch management policy should clearly state the speed and frequency of update identification, acquisition and distribution. The patch management policy should require end users to follow the prompts provided by the system update service and restart their machines as requested.

Taking the patch management policy to the next level would be the implementation of internally serviced updates enforced by a patch management policy server. There are free server programs that can handle the process of locally caching and distributing updates at predetermined intervals. There are also paid versions of patch management policy systems that offer more features, a wider variety of patch management policy updates that can be disbursed, and allow for reporting and enforcement. Policy enforcement means that if a system does not meet an adequate patch level, it cannot gain access to network shares and resources. While putting a patch management policy may seem like a big investment in time, the reduction of hours spent ultimately by manually updating systems, attempting to create your own reports or even having to battle with systems affected by an attack due to an unpatched vulnerability, can actually end up saving time in the long run. A patch management policy will generally come down from upper management, but in some cases, an IT department may have to lobby for such a change to be made. The long term security benefits are generally enough to convince leadership to put a patch management policy in place.

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