IRS automates patch update

The Internal Revenue Service uses an automatic software distribution solution from Tivoli to not only push out new applications to users across the country but also to push out patches and other security solutions.

The agency has extensively educated its employees about remote updating and responding to emergency situations, such as the Internet worms that hit over the last few weeks, said Jim Kennedy, the IRS' program manager for enterprise systems management.

The IRS has more than 130,000 desktops, laptops and servers, and managed to test the patch for the vulnerability and place it on the servers in the weeks after Microsoft Corp. and others put out their alerts, Kennedy said. When Blaster hit, the agency went "in high gear on finishing the deployment on the rest of our infrastructure," he said.

The process included putting the patch on 50,000 desktops and laptops within nine hours when Blaster first hit. But even with the automated solution, which still involved user intervention because this particular patch required all systems to be rebooted, the IRS was only on track to apply patches to all systems by Aug. 15., Kennedy said. This timeframe left the agency open to Welchia, although the variant worm did not take the network down as it did at other agencies last week.

For civilian agencies, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center has the Patch Authentication and Dissemination Capability, a free service agencies can sign up for to automatically receive patches for the systems in their networks. But only about 40 agencies have signed up. Most are still just testing the service and relying on other partners for information, said Sallie McDonald, a senior official with the National Cyber Security Division of the Homeland Security Department.

That includes the Federal Aviation Administration, which is testing the service at several locations throughout the agency but is also testing a solution provided by one of its vendors, said Michael Brown, director of the FAA's Office of Information Systems Security.

The main reason more agencies aren't using the service is that "we need to improve the overall program so it better meets the requirements of our customers," McDonald said. For example, the current contract does not include enough software licenses to meet agencies' needs. FedCIRC is working with the General Services Administration to modify the original contract to better meet changing needs, McDonald said.

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