GCN Survey: For IT managers, it's patch-as-patch-can

The GCN Reader Survey is intended to provide data on trends and product preferences. This survey on patch management is based on telephone interviews with 100 government GCN readers.

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the flood of patches from software vendors? You're not alone.

Government IT managers in a GCN telephone survey are also exasperated by all the security fixes they have to install.

'The number of patches is too daunting,' said a Labor Department IT specialist in Washington.

'There are too many patches and updates,' said a Social Security Administration information systems manager in Baltimore. 'If the product was reliable, there wouldn't be a need for updates.'

'Keeping up with patches is our biggest security challenge,' said a chief of operations support at the Defense Logistics Agency in Stockton, Calif.

Nevertheless, many managers in the survey reported that their agencies have a handle on patch management'as well they should. Under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, agencies must maintain up-to-date patches as part of the law's system-configuration requirements.

Eighty percent of survey participants said their agencies have standardized patch-management policies and procedures, and 86 percent described their patch-management programs as effective.

Another 85 percent reported that patch management is firmly integrated into their agency's overall security program.

Still, keeping up with patches saps time and resources, managers said.

'It's becoming much too time-consuming,' said an Agriculture Department system administrator in Tucson, Ariz.

'Patch management needs constant attention and care,' added an Agriculture computer specialist in Washington.

'Patch management consumes a lot of man-hours,' said a Defense Department information systems specialist in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

It also takes time to test patches, survey participants said.

'We don't always have time to test patches before installing them,' acknowledged an Interior Department IT security manager in Salt Lake City.

About three-quarters of managers in the survey said they test patches before deploying them enterprisewide.

Another issue was that patches sometimes introduce new problems, a computer scientist at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., said.

Said a Bureau of Labor Statistics manager in Washington, 'I'm concerned about poor patches affecting existing data.'


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