The Challenges of Patching

Patching is a challenge, but vitally important.

Anthony Malakian discusses four major issues for patching.

Anthony provides a glimpse into his April Waters feature on patching to protect against newly-discovered vulnerabilities.

Sometimes I forget that my dad knows a hell of a lot about financial IT. The man is pushing seven decades on this planet, with about four of those decades spent building data centers for various insurance firms and, finally, Avon. (Yes, my Bronx-born-and-raised, Marine father finished his working career at the global beauty products behemoth...and he actually really enjoyed working there, ironically enough.)

Anyway, in passing I mentioned that I'm working on a story looking at running patches after a new vulnerability is discovered or a software upgrade is necessary. Sure enough, he knew the subject well and regaled me with some tales.

After talking with my old man, and several industry CIOs/CTOs, here are a few broad takeaways that I'll look to delve into more deeply in the April issue of Waters:

1. As an IT specialist, you'll receive absolutely no praise or rewards for keeping the firm safe from cyber attacks by keeping up-to-date on patch releases. These patches take a fair amount of manpower ─ usually on weekends or late at night ─ and if you do your job well, no one outside of IT will have known that you've done your job well.

But, if something gets screwed up, or, in the worst-case scenario, a hacker sneaks in and takes information out, heads will roll.

2. There isn't a great science behind patching; it's more about logistics, operational cohesion, and diligent back testing. The key is to make sure that by running a patch on one system, you don't inadvertently throw off another linked system.

3. As with anything in security, you're in a perpetual up-hill battle when trying to defend against vulnerabilities. So many things at a financial institution are interconnected that in many ways, you're working on a hope and a prayer.

4. Patching is time consuming. The weekend is valuable time in IT, and the more time that is dedicating to patching and then testing, takes away from building and testing for more business-oriented projects. Again, it's not fun, you don't get any credit for it, and it can serve as a time-suck. But in today's day and age, it is absolutely, positively critical.

As I said before, I'll be writing more in-depth about this for the April issue, which will be dedicated to cyber security. The magazine will profile a prominent chief information security officer (CISO), and it will have a round-table of CISOs discussing how this position has taken on importance on Wall Street in recent years, and what makes for a good CISO. (Hint: There's no one right background...everyone seems to have their own theories.)

The issue will also take a look at security vendors in the space and layout all the major hacks from the last 10-20 years, and what firms learned from these breaches.

As for my patching story, if you have any insight, I'd love to hear from you. You can reach me at [email protected] or give me a call at 646-490-3973.

The Sunny Shores of Florida...Oh, and FIA Boca 2015

Tomorrow I'll be flying down to Florida for this year's FIA Boca (Raton) conference. My slate is fairly-well filled up with meetings, but please don't hesitate to pull me aside for a quick chat if you see me ─ I'm the guy with the shaved head and bushy beard...I kinda stand out.

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