Updating Operating Systems and Applications

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If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of the procedures that ensure operating systems and applications are up to date.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Administrators ensure server operating systems are updated at least once a month with relevant patches, but they do not track other software updates. Of the following choices, what is the BEST choice to mitigate risks on these servers?

A. Application change management

B. Application patch management

C. Whole disk encryption

D. Application hardening

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

Implementing Patch Management

Software is not secure. There. I said it. As someone who has written a few programs over the years, that’s not easy to say. In a perfect world, extensive testing would discover all the bugs, exploits, and vulnerabilities that cause so many problems.

However, because operating systems and applications include millions of lines of code, testing simply doesn’t find all the problems. Instead, most companies make a best effort to test software before releasing it. Later, as problems crop up, companies write and release patches or updates. Administrators must apply these patches to keep their systems up to date and protected against known vulnerabilities.

Updating Operating Systems and Applications

Patch management ensures that systems and applications stay up to date with current patches. This is one of the most efficient ways to reduce operating system and application vulnerabilities because it protects systems from known vulnerabilities. Patch management includes a group of methodologies and includes the process of identifying, downloading, testing, deploying, and verifying patches.

As an example, many web browsers have bugs that make them vulnerable to drive-by downloads. When successful, a web site will download and install malicious software after a user does nothing more than visit a specially crafted web page. This happens without the user’s knowledge or approval. Attackers trick users into visiting these pages using a variety of methods, including sending links in spam emails. One click and the user’s system is infected. In contrast, if administrators ensure web browsers and operating systems are up to date, these bugs are patched and the drive-by downloads fail.

Remember this

Patch management procedures ensure that operating systems and applications are up to date with current patches. This protects systems against known vulnerabilities.

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Automated Versus Controlled Deployment

Individual users and small organizations sometimes configure systems to automatically download and install patches. These systems periodically check for updates and when they’re available, they automatically download them. Then they typically install the patches in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, some patches cause problems with systems. For example, a patch to Windows 7 in August 2014 caused some systems to crash into the infamous blue screen of death (BSOD). The systems automatically rebooted, crashed again, and continued an endless rebooting loop. This only happened to systems that had a specific OpenTypeFont installed and in a nonstandard font directory. However, for the people who met these specifics, the result was quite troubling. Imagine if your organization had 50 such computers. You’d walk in one day with 50 users screaming for help.

Because of the potential for problems such as this, larger organizations take control of deploying patches. Their patch management program plans for the release of patches and includes methods of testing and deploying them.


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Q. Administrators ensure server operating systems are updated at least once a month with relevant patches, but they do not track other software updates. Of the following choices, what is the BEST choice to mitigate risks on these servers?

A. Application change management

B. Application patch management

C. Whole disk encryption

D. Application hardening

Answer is B. Application patch management practices ensure that applications are kept up to date with relevant patches, similar to how the operating systems are kept up to date with patches.

Application change management helps control changes to the applications. While this is extremely important, it isn’t as critical as patch management. For example, if an organization never implements patches, server applications are sure to have vulnerabilities over time. In contrast, if change management processes aren’t followed, a change might cause an outage or vulnerability.

Whole disk encryption helps protect confidentiality, but is unrelated to this question.

Application hardening secures the applications when they are deployed, but doesn’t keep them up to date with current patches.

See Chapter 5 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on securing hosts and data.

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