Updating computer systems

Computer security breaches can be prevented with proper vigilence.

It is important for laboratory computer users to keep their systems up-to-date to avoid malware. Keeping up with computer security measures also helps to keep costs down.

Older systems no longer receive security patches from vendors, making those systems vulnerable to all new security exploits. We have many examples of an unpatched system being hacked within minutes of appearing on the network so operating an out-of-date system puts not only that computer but the entire laboratory network at risk.

Running older systems also puts an enormous burden on the teams of support personnel who work to keep your computers running. The support team’s ability to provide effective support is compromised by a need to provide continued support to systems that are beyond their normal lifetimes.

These issues are particularly relevant now because Scientific Linux version 4 (SLF4) will no longer be supported with patches after Feb. 12, 2012. Of the several thousands of systems that were running SLF4 a few months ago, there are still 771 machines that need to be upgraded before Feb. 12. Both SLF5 and, even better, SLF6 are available and fully functional.

To find out which system you are running, please contact your system administrator. You can find out who that is by going to the Computing Sector website and clicking “Verify your node registration.”

If you are running an SLF4 system, please update as soon as possible. Warning notices will begin circulating this month, two months in advance of the deadline. After Feb. 12, systems that are not updated will be blocked from network access. If there is a compelling need to continue running SLF4, you can apply to the Service Desk for a variance. Approval of the variance will depend on a clearly stated reason why the system cannot be upgraded and a plan for a set of mitigating security controls, such as keeping the machine off the network, that will compensate for the unavailability of security patches.

—Irwin Gaines