Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Importance of Installing Security Updates

Is Your Windows Operating System Secure?

If your computer is using an operating system that is no longer supported, such as Windows 95, 98, or ME, updates are no longer being provided, and you should strongly consider the value of installing a more current operating system if your computer can support it.  If you are using Windows XP and you do not have Service Pack 3 installed, updates are no longer being provided for your system, and you are urgently in need of installing Service Pack 3 so you can install those needed updates.  If your operating system is Windows Vista, Service Pack 2 is now available, although not yet required for obtaining other updates; however, Service Pack 1 is required. (Be aware that support for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) will end on July 12, 2011. To continue support, make sure you've installed Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2). 

If your computer is running an operating system that can no longer be updated, and you are accessing the Internet with that computer, it will become infected.  Infection is inevitable unless you upgrade and/or update your operating system so that it is able to receive important security updates.   Those updates will help secure your computer against the vulnerabilities inherent in an unpatched operating system. 

It does not matter how careful you are.  It doesn't matter that you never open e-mail attachments.   It doesn't matter that you use a good firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware.  It does not matter if you sprinkle yourself with chicken blood and chant naked by moonlight.  If your operating system is unpatched, sooner or later it will become infected.  

If you have an operating system for which security updates are available but you're not taking advantage of the availability of these updates, you need to remedy that situation as quickly as possible.  Go to the Microsoft Update site and download and install all critical updates.  If you haven't been updating, this may take quite some time, but it's time well spent.

For Windows XP Users:  

Windows Update or Microsoft Update?

Note that the above link is for Microsoft Update rather than Windows Update.  Although obtaining your updates from Windows Update will provide you with the updates for your operating system, it will not offer you updates for other Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office.  Microsoft Update will.  Microsoft Update will offer you updates for more than your operating system.  If your system has Microsoft Office components installed (Excel, Word, Outlook for example) when you scan for updates, you will also be offered the available updates for those products.  There is an exception, however.  If you are running an older version of Office, e.g., Office 2000 or older, you will need to go directly to the Office Update site to scan for updates for those products.  

Once you have verified that your system is ready and capable of receiving updates, set it to do this automatically.  Just go to your computer's Control Panel, open the Windows Security Center and verify that Automatic Updates is turned on and set to receive and install all future updates.  

For Windows Vista and Windows 7 Users:  

Go to Start, Control Panel, then click on the Windows Update icon to open the applet.   From the menu in the left-hand panel, select "Install all updates automatically (recommended)."   All the boxes should be checked but the last one, which is optional.   When finished, select "OK" to approve your new settings.  

What about other updates?

OK, when is the last time you updated Java, Adobe Reader, QuickTime or any of the many other applications that are probably installed on your system?  If the answer isn't that you're 100%  certain that all your applications are updated and secure, then please use the link below to access the Secunia Software Inspector for a free scan that will tell you if your applications are in need of an update.   No,  they won't try to sell you something or sneak something onto your system that you don't want, and they're not going to put you on a mailing list and send you SPAM.

Why update?  Where once you only had to be concerned about opening an e-mail attachment, visiting  a bad web site, or clicking on a link, it is now possible to get infected just by visiting a good site that unknowingly has had a bad Java applet planted that is now running and infecting visitors to that site who are using a vulnerable version of Sun Java.

Unless you're  100% certain that all your applications are updated and secure, use the link below to access the Secunia Software Inspector for a free scan that will tell you if your applications are in need of an update.   It doesn't cover everything, but it does cover a lot. 

Secunia Software Inspector:

The Secunia Software Inspector (online scanner version requires Java) covers the most common/popular end user applications:
  • Internet browsers
  • Internet browser plugins
  • Instant messaging clients
  • Email clients
  • Media players
  • Operating systems
It's a good thing. 
Jane Edwards, MS-MVP
Consumer Security 2006 - 2011