Top Linux Security Practices and Why Linux Security Patches Are Important

While working as a sysadmin over the years, you truly start to understand the importance of security patches. On a semi-daily basis I see compromised servers that have landed in an unfortunate situation due to lack of security patching or insecure program execution (e.g. running a program as root unnecessarily). In this blog post I’ll be focusing on the importance of patching your Linux servers.
As you may know, there have been many high severity Linux kernel and general CPU vulnerabilities these past few years. For example, the Dirty COW Linux kernel vulnerability and the CPU speculative execution vulnerabilities all require patching. If you’re not taking security patching seriously, now is the time to start. Something as simple as subscribing to your Linux distribution’s security mailing list and applying patches as needed could prevent a compromise. Most that are concerned with security have learned the hard way and have had their servers compromised. But who wants to learn the hard way? There is a lot more attention that needs to go into securing your server, but patching is the first line of defense.

Top Linux server security practices: 

  1. Subscribe to your Linux distribution’s security announcements mailing list. For example the CentOS-announce or the debian-security-announce mailing lists. These will notify you when packages are updated that contain security patches. They’ll also go over which vulnerabilities the patch covers.
  2. Read security related news! It’s important to keep up with the latest news on security topics. I’ve discovered the need to patch software many times by just reading news.
  3. Check if you actually need the patch, and how it applies to your environment. It’s best to not blindly patch everything in the name of security. For instance, the vulnerability may not even affect you in any way. I commonly see this a lot with Linux kernel vulnerability patches. There’s generally a lot of them, but most are not too bad. It’s worth saving you from having to do yet another reboot.
  4. If you delay patches due to worries about downtime, implement redundancy into what you’re doing. It’s important that critical vulnerabilities get patched, but it’s also important that your production server remains up and accessible. The best option, even if difficult would be to figure out a redundant way of doing the things you do with high availability.

Patching is probably the easiest part of maintaining a secure environment. So there’s no excuse to neglect your system! It also prevents a headache for your future self.
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