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Simple Tips for Network Sanity: Patch Tuesday, Exploit Wednesday and Uninstall Thursday

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about our partnership with Microsoft and patch management. In a previous life I was a network/sysadmin. A brief description of that role was “If it has a blinking light on it, I am responsible for it,” which meant on most days I felt like I was living in the middle of a sci-fi movie, surrounded by demanding technology.

When you live in a hair-on-fire environment like that, keeping up with Microsoft patches can be painful. You can set them to automatically download and install and you should be good, that is unless the patch breaks something or even worse – it breaks everything.

When you have business-critical applications that are legacy or just plain old, patching can break them. If that app in question is the bread and butter of the business, patching can bring down the entire company. On the other hand, not patching for known vulnerabilities can be just as bad, if not worse.

There is an old saying: Patch Tuesday, Exploit Wednesday, and Uninstall Thursday.  Microsoft normally releases patches on the second Tuesday of the month, so Exploit Wednesday is when the cyber criminals have analyzed the details from Tuesday and deliver code to exploit the systems that haven’t been updated. Uninstall Thursday is the day you finally figure out that it was the Tuesday patch that broke your mission-critical system and you need to uninstall it to get things back to normal.

To say it is a Catch-22 would be an understatement. How do you stop the insanity? We, SonicWall, have partnered with Microsoft in a program call MAPP. Microsoft gives us  advance knowledge of what will be patched prior to Tuesday so that we have signatures in place to protect our customers who just can’t patch on Tuesday.

Should you patch on Tuesday? Yes, you should absolutely patch on Tuesday or any other day Microsoft releases a patch. But if there are times you just can’t, we can help protect you until you can. Assisting with patches is one of the many little things we have been doing quietly in the background for years that most people are unaware of. Now you know we have you covered when you are stuck in this Catch-22. The biggest take away is that you should patch. I can’t stress that enough: patch, patch, patch! But if you can’t, know that we are already behind the scenes, helping to keep your network safe.

Visit SonicWall GRID Threat Network for MAPP bulletins.

For the Security Advisories for MAPP, you can click here.

Are Campus Defenses Keeping Up with Attacks from the Cyber Netherworld?

I took a computer science minor when I was in college. Back then, the school computers were in a heavily secured section of one building, and we accessed them from teletype terminals and punch card readers (no, we did not use charcoal on slates by the fireplace in the log cabin!). There was no reason to worry about the security of our computer work, other than needing to stay on the good side of the staff of the computer center so that they wouldn’t reshuffle our punch cards or “misplace” our printouts.

Fast forward more than a few years, when I was doing graduate work at a public university. I took 30 credits online, using recordings of on-campus classes, regular chat sessions with my instructors and fellow students, and accessing research information, including public and professionals-only data sources, through the school’s online library system and its global connections. I didn’t pay too much attention to the security of my online activities; internet connectivity made them possible, but there weren’t nearly the number of bad actors out on the net that there are today.

Today my son is in college, and it’s natural for him to select a mix of online and in-person classes, even though his school is a short drive away. He relies on his school’s IT infrastructure for classwork, exams, registration, and research, and can access these functions as well as find out anything about what is available on the internet–from his laptop or smartphone. And every one of those transactions takes place in a space that is just seething with cyber muggers, burglars, and every variety of malicious actor you can imagine.

Information is the stock in trade of colleges and universities. Information enables students to pursue their degrees, faculty to teach and research, and staff to keep these institutions running. Much of the information has real value in the cyber netherworld, whether it’s personally identifiable information of students, proprietary research conducted with other schools and industry partners, or financial transactions.

Keeping this information secure is a challenge. In a recent Center for Digital Education survey of higher education IT professionals, 72 percent listed data breaches among their greatest current network security concerns. Their top security concerns for the year ahead? Spam, phishing, and malware. What’s standing in the way of better network security? More than four out of five pointed to budget constraints.

Keeping campus networks secure in the face of ever-increasing growth of data, devices used to access that data, and cyber threats requires more effective and more cost-effective security. To learn more about what’s keeping campus IT leaders up at night, and what they’re doing about it, view our on-demand webcast, Network Security in Education: The changing landscape of campus data security.