Unpatched kernels can leave your data and services vulnerable to devastating, costly attacks. Privilege escalation or denial of service vulnerabilities could be disastrous if taken advantage of; however, with proper server management and regular Linux kernel security patches, the risks associated with such threats are significantly minimized.
Managing a secure Linux estate is no easy task. Every day, the kernel may receive up to 25 patches that seek to address potential vulnerabilities. Many of these must be addressed with haste due to formal disclosure or risks posed by exploiters targeting this widely-used operating system. System Administrators should take proactive measures and ensure their environment can withstand any threat in an ever-changing security landscape.
Linux live patching is a vulnerability patching approach that delivers security updates while Linux systems are running. It enables organizations to ensure their Linux servers are up to date with the latest, most secure OS versions without disrupting service or needing to schedule downtime for the purpose of deploying a security patch.
Unlike conventional OS patching in Linux, the Linux kernel doesn’t need to experience downtime to apply Linux live patches. This powerful technique not only saves time for teams tasked with deploying Linux kernel security patches, but also provides peace of mind that valuable data is safeguarded from potential threats and vulnerabilities.
Linux kernel live patching must be a critical pillar for any business running this type of operating system. Not only does it protect against vulnerabilities but also ensures consistency within operations as well as software compatibility across deployments.
System administrators now recognize live kernel patching as a crucial element of any enterprise’s collection of Linux server patching tools, no longer merely a perk to reduce server maintenance. This technology has revolutionized the safety and operations of servers globally since its introduction – previously requiring admins to make the difficult decision between running their systems in a vulnerable state or taking them down altogether for a regular patch update in Linux.
The History of Live Patching
In 2008, Jeff Arnold at MIT made a groundbreaking discovery in the realm of patching Linux servers. After his Linux server was compromised due to unpatched vulnerabilities he had been unable to address quickly, Arnold took action and developed Ksplice – an automated Linux patching solution that allowed users to update their kernel without rebooting. This pioneering invention proved invaluable; eventually being bought out by Oracle after its success among students at MIT whose systems it protected from potential threats.
Oracle’s decision to close the source code in 2011 necessitated a shift for Linux administrators, who had been accustomed to using Linux kernel live patching as part of their regular IT maintenance. This challenging development ultimately led many developers and organizations towards developing customized Linux patching solutions or investing in commercial applications; with these new enterprise patching solution options available, successfully managing software updates is now more accessible than ever before – freeing up valuable time for busy tech professionals.
When it comes to maintaining the security of your Linux systems, it’s essential to understand the difference between patching and updating. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to distinct processes that can have different impacts on your system’s security and stability.
Patching refers to the process of applying specific changes to software code to fix vulnerabilities or bugs. In the context of Linux, this means applying a patch to the kernel or other critical components of the operating system. Live kernel patching takes this a step further, allowing these live patches to be applied in real-time without needing to reboot the system.
Updating, on the other hand, typically refers to the process of replacing older versions of software or applications with newer ones. This may include new features, bug fixes, and security patches. While updating your system is essential for staying up to date with the latest security improvements, it can also introduce new vulnerabilities or compatibility issues.
Linux live patches provide a unique solution that combines the benefits of both patching and updating. By allowing patches to be applied in realtime without requiring a reboot, live patches allow you to maintain the security of your system without sacrificing uptime or availability. This can be particularly valuable for organizations that require continuous operation, such as healthcare providers or financial institutions.
Overall, it’s essential to understand the difference between patching and updating and to implement a comprehensive strategy that incorporates both approaches. Linux live patches offer an innovative solution that can help you maintain the security and stability of your system while minimizing downtime and disruption.
Want to learn if live patching is suitable for your unique environment?
Compliance: Companies can reduce the burden of compliance certification by simplifying their patching process. Automated security updates allow for the timely installation of secure fixes, while also maintaining service functionality and meeting strict requirements for certifications such as SOC 2, as well as CIS Controls, NIST CSF, PCI DSS, and ISO 27001.
Availability: Companies relying on service-level agreements (SLAs) to remain competitive could suffer serious financial repercussions if their system’s accessibility and uptime metrics do not meet predetermined levels. To minimize interruption of revenue streams, companies are increasingly turning to automatic Linux security patching techniques, including live patching, which allow for the updating of systems without having them go offline. Even those organizations not subject to an SLA need to consider outages in critical services such as cryptocurrency mining, multiplayer gaming, or audio/video streaming can have a dramatic impact on profits.
Convenience: By utilizing live patches, IT staff are given the opportunity to tackle complex system challenges instead of spending time on routine maintenance. This way teams can leverage their highly-skilled personnel more efficiently and stay ahead in today’s rapidly changing technological landscape – all while avoiding missing out on any critical patch update in Linux systems they are using.
Security: Because Linux kernel live patching solutions deploy patches without requiring downtime, patches can be applied quickly after they are released. As companies don’t need to schedule a difficult-to-coordinate maintenance window, delays are less frequent – and organizations are able to drastically shrink their vulnerability exposure windows.
When to Patch
Effective patch management is a critical part of maintaining the security of your Linux system. However, knowing when to apply patches can be challenging, particularly in large, complex environments.
When it comes to patch management, Linux systems administrators would typically need to prioritize patches based on their severity and potential impact on your system. For example, patches that address critical vulnerabilities or exploits should be applied as soon as possible, while less severe patches can be scheduled for a later time.
In addition to severity, it’s also important to consider the risk of exploitation. This can depend on a variety of factors, including your system’s configuration, the applications you use, and your overall security posture.
Ultimately, the decision to apply patches should be based on a careful assessment of these factors, as well as your organization’s risk tolerance and operational requirements. It’s also important to consider the potential impact of patches on system performance, stability, and compatibility.
To help manage patching on a large scale, many organizations use specialized tools and software that can automate the process and provide real-time monitoring and reporting. These tools can help streamline patch management and ensure that critical patches are applied in a timely and effective manner.
However, with Linux kernel live patching, including TuxCare’s KernelCare Enterprise, there is no need to prioritize patches – all patches are applied in the background with zero disruption. With each new patch, all previous patches and most recent patches are rolled into a single deployment. This way, all patches are applied and nobody needs to waste time or resources on prioritization.
Automating Live Patching
Conventional vulnerability patching can lead to overworked teams, unnecessary downtime, wasted resources, and unhappy end-users faced with service interruptions.
Fortunately, TuxCare’s KernelCare Enterprise offers a Linux kernel live patch solution that substantially reduces your IT team’s or SecOps team’s workload while ensuring your company’s Linux systems receive the latest patches as soon as they are released. With KernelCare Enterprise, you can shrink your vulnerability exposure window, minimize downtime, eliminate patching-related maintenance windows, and stay compliant with ease.
Plus, unlike many distribution-specific live patching options, like those offered by Red Hat or Canonical, KernelCare Enterprise works on all popular Linux distributions in use today – for a much lower price tag.
To learn more about how to patch Linux servers without reboots or downtime, or to get started with Linux live patches today, schedule a conversation with one of our live kernel patching experts.
Ready to modernize your vulnerability patching approach? Schedule a chat with a TuxCare Linux security expert