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Why System Administrators Are So Crucial to Security

By: Kevin Beaver | 02 August 2016

You've heard the saying, "You don't know what you have until it's gone." I think that wisdom applies nicely to the overall value that system administrators bring to their employers. Since July 29 is System Administrator Appreciation Day, today is the perfect day to reflect on these workers and their roles.

I'm confident that any and all security-related incidents would be impossible to prevent or work through without the guidance of a system administrator who knows his network like the back of his hand. Security may not be the specific focus of system administrators, but I can assure you it comprises a significant portion - arguably the majority - of their workloads on any given day.

Networks Don't Run Themselves

I've witnessed the generalizations, stereotypes and assumptions about what system administrators do and don't do while working on projects with my clients. From regular users to executive management, many system administrators get little to no attention until something goes awry. There's often a notion that network systems, servers and applications simply run themselves; rarely is the work of the system administrator considered.

"System Administrators are a key component of a sound infrastructure in any IT environment, especially when it comes to security," said Cody Rucks, a DevOps engineer in corporate operations at CareerBuilder. "Whether actively working to prevent threats, doing an analysis of trends, implementing policies or engaging with SaaS vendors to ensure they are not allowing a lapse in security policy, it is the system administrator that helps to protect the integrity of the environment by leveraging close collaboration with security teams."

A Multitude of Responsibilities

Many of the day-to-day system administrator tasks that involve security include:

  • Reviewing network infrastructure, server and application logs;
  • Patching operating systems and third-party software;
  • Monitoring antivirus software;
  • Analyzing network bandwidth and throughput;
  • Ensuring data backups have run and are workable;
  • Responding to potential and confirmed network security threats; and
  • Dealing with visitors, guest network users and outside vendors.

System Administrators to the Rescue

My father worked as a printing pressman for his entire career. When I was growing up, I heard stories about printing presses having problems or failing altogether, which was especially problematic during high-volume operations and time-sensitive projects. When the going got rough, my father was able to come to the rescue of his printing company (and its customers) on many occasions. When the timing was right, he was able to prevent catastrophes altogether. The system administrator is no different.

"Systems administrators play a crucial role in the health and security of modern networks," said Matthew Peters, director of IT operations and security at The Rainmaker Group. "They are the police, firefighters and EMTs all rolled up into one - waste management too! SysAdmins wear a multitude of hats and are required to answer difficult questions that nontechnical folks need answered. They are needed to be the subject-matter expert for anything that has electricity running through it and are typically required to be available 24/7."

Whether or not you work in IT or security, be sure to recognize the value of the system administrator role. As with customer service and payroll managers, you may not appreciate what goes on behind the scenes, but you'll certainly feel it when they're not there to do their work.


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