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Last time I checked I was able to install yum-security in CentOS but since it doesn't use the official redhat mirrors I was unable to get it to actually work. Is there a way to make yum-security work or is there an alternative to yum-security on CentOS?

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No, there is no easy alternative to this redhat feature with centos.

The only alternative I know so far is to manually list the rpms affected by one or more CVE and update only them.

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Unfortunately, yum-security is not supported on CentOS :(

However, this hacked alternative might work for you.

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These days yum-security works fine on CentOS, you can install it from EPEL

Example on CentOS 6:

$ rpm -q yum-plugin-security
yum-plugin-security-1.1.30-14.el6.noarch

(On CentOS 5 the package is called yum-security)

$ sudo yum update --security
Loaded plugins: security
Setting up Update Process
Resolving Dependencies
Limiting packages to security relevant ones
epel/updateinfo                                                                                                                                                                                                         | 724 kB     00:00     
No packages needed for security; 141 packages available
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    This doesn't work for me. On CentOS 6, I installed httpd-2.2.15-29.el6.centos.x86_64.rpm , which has had several security updates such as CESA-2013:1156. yum update --security still says No packages needed for security. yum update will update httpd just fine. I'll note that yum-plugin-security does work on Scientific Linux. – Stefan Lasiewski May 14 '14 at 20:19
  • I'm not sure what it's actually doing on the backend, because it does list some of the packages that need updating. Problem is it leaves other important packages that need updating out, so it gives a false sense of security. Which, arguably, is worse than if it simply reliably did nothing. – Parthian Shot Mar 30 '16 at 14:18
  • The reason why this doesn't work is that CentOS doesn't publish which updates are security updates in its repo metadata. EPEL does, though, so occasionally you see an update via this process and may be misled into thinking that it is doing what you want. – Michael Hampton Oct 22 '16 at 17:18

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