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Patching Linux - Pain or Gain?

Conclusions

One thing I’m always telling others is to make sure they’ve got their bases covered. Security patches aren’t designed to break your software, after all; their developers designed them to protect your machine. Even so, problems can arise after a reboot. If a particular patch does break an application, it could be for a variety of reasons, ranging from poorly written software to out-dated standards that fall out of support in the newer software versions you are installing.

You should definitely do the following…

  • Even if there are 25 or 50 patches needed, be informed of what’s being done to your machine.
  • Focus on your machine’s core services, and understand how they may be affected by the new patches.
  • Coordinate the change with those involved with the system you’re patching.
  • Check your backups and make sure they are available.
  • Make sure you have the right resources available in case you need help.
  • Test the patches on non-critical machines, especially if they’re similar to the production boxes you’re scheduled to patch.
  • Reboot the machine, if possible, since startup processes may have changed during the update.
  • …and finally, confirm that everything works the way it should after you’re done.

When I used to install car alarms long ago, most of our customers at the alarm shop weren’t there because they were being proactive. They were there at the shop because they were the victims of an intrusion and decided to get an alarm after the fact. The same goes with keeping your machines patched and well protected. From a security standpoint, patching is a basic procedure that can keep your machines safe, even if you think you’re in the safest network around. Just remember, though, that even as no process is perfect, no network is perfect either. If someone should get past your firewalls, intrusion detection systems and the DMZ, at least you know that you’ve done your job and added an extra line of defense for your Linux machines.

Links for Bug/Security Updates/Support

Linux Distributions :

Red Hat - https://www.redhat.com/security/updates/

Novell SuSE - http://support.novell.com/patches.html

openSuSE - http://en.opensuse.org/SDB :SDB

Ubuntu - http://www.ubuntu.com/support

Security Organizations :

SANS Top 20 - https://www2.sans.org/top20/

Secunia - http://secunia.com

United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team - www.us-cert.gov

  • Darkk
    Very nice article. Patching is just a way of life of sys admins everywhere regardless of what flavor of server and desktop OS. Least the article explains in detail what to expect and the gotchas.

    Good job!

    Darkk
    Reply
  • Patching harder on Linux than Windows?!?
    Maybe I'm biased, but updating Debian or ArchLinux (more of a desktop distro) has been so easy as not to even think about it.
    Reply
  • You really don't know what you're talking about here..and readers should avoid this article.

    If you buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux with a Satellite subscription Red Hat does the patching.

    If you have Novell - ZenWorks will do the trick.

    If you're running a non-commercial unsupported version than sure some of the options you mention might make sense but a simple cron job with yum/apt will do it all with one command line.

    Reply
  • Was this article written by Steve Ballmer? And interestingly there is only a single line about the Debian-based distros? Why Mr. Anderson, why didn't you mention the details about APT? Now Steve Ballmer, let me tell you something - my close friend is a sysadmin of my university (University Of Toronto) and he doesnt even bother patching the systems because they are fully automated (over 200 machines). As well he deploys 50 machines with brand new OS installation with no more than 5 lines of commands.

    Sad Tom's.. sad.. you have been an amazing site once upon a time ...
    Reply
  • hmmm.
    I'm a Windows guy most of the time but I enjoy playing with Linux from time to time.
    Actually as a Linux starter(some time ago) I had no problem patching my Linux.
    It was very easy...
    I do not remember reading or doing something special before patching it at that first time.
    Reply
  • Correction, Patch Quest by Advent Net was cited as patching only RedHat which is incorrect. It also patches Debian. In my experience finding a patch solution for your particular OS has not be that terribly difficult. Finding one that has robust scheduling, push on demand, and can handle the multitude of necessary evil apps, such as Adobe Reader, Quicktime, Realplayer, Instant Messaging, etc... is the real challenge.
    Reply
  • GoK
    The author of this article needs to go back through their information, and edit this article. It is highly inaccurate! The fact that he gave Debian-based GNU/Linux flavors (ie., Ubuntu&Gentoo) less time in the article than his praise for Mircosofts upstream ability for patches, seems a bad sign for this article.

    Patching most GNU/Linux installs is a simple task, which is highly scalable, and that can be fully automated through the use of CRON scheduling, etc. NO EXTRA SOFTWARE should be required to update/maintain ANY enterprise level GNU/Linux server distro (also if you server has a GUI on it, its not running in an enterprise level configuration).

    I find the mention of Windows Server strange in the article, since it can't run services like Bind9 (DNS), it only makes up roughly 38% of the current market share of net servers, and since it can't run Bind9, it runs NONE of the internet backbone (DNS routing server).

    I am a huge fan of Tom's, but this article should never have been published.
    Reply
  • nochternus
    <rant>
    While there are many Linux solutions, everybody will find what works best for them. I myself have become a fan of distributions like ArchLinux. I use it on my 3 servers at work and on my desktop and server at home. the package manager, pacman, is by far the best I've ever used. While it may not categorize some things into software groups, it does have it broken down into core, extra and then everything else. It is also extremely easy to configure and create wrappers or optional interfaces that utilize pacman (just like some of the others mentioned. There is also a package called the "arch build system" that allows you to create your own packages from source with the simple modifications of a PKGBUILD file, making recompiling and rebuilding easy and efficient. My latest server was not fully supported by a vanilla or even a patched kernel so a few quick modifications to the PKGBUILD and the kernel config and one command later, the package was compiled from source and installed without me sweating, swearing or crying.

    I don't want this to come off as a "YAY ARCH - EVERYBODY SWITCH" comment so much as a "do a little more research, or even a community probe could get you better information" comment. The concept of the article wasn't bad just slightly "mis-informative". Especially seeing as how not everything that is open-source and is an OS is linux/unix. Most are linux-like or unix-like (as is the nature of progression.

    As a note for the naysayers, I've used Windows Server, Debian, Gentoo, RedHat, SuSE, ubuntu, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris and many spin offs of some of those. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses (most notably the flaw of the Windows Server platform would be any machine that loads it - THAT is a biased opinion.)
    </rant>
    Reply
  • malici0usc0de
    With Ubuntu you can also set it up to silently install them in the background, it just prompts for a password then goes away. I don't know how long Ubuntu has had this but I have been using it as my only OS at home for about 2 years now and have never had a problem with patches. I use XP at work as almost everyone does and I notice it operates almost exactly the same way except it doesn't ask you for a password. So if it works for the less techie MS user base then I don't see why so many problems are occurring with this same basic system running under Linux. sudo apt-get install brain
    Reply
  • resistance
    The writer of this article has 0% knowledge of _present-day_ GNU/Linux or this article was sponsored by software monopolist.

    in Debian based distros like *ubuntu you can set automatically daily updates without _any_ user intervension and without installing additional software.

    Its a first time I see such badly written article on tomsharware.
    Reply