A secure system begins with the installation of all the latest patches for Windows (and whatever other software you might have running). Without them, you’re a sitting duck for whatever malicious website or hacker you might happen upon. This is why it’s so important to keep your computer updated at all times. Too often do I see clients infected with a virus because they simply didn’t have their Windows updates installed–they were too lazy to install them, they didn’t want to restart their computer, or they just didn’t realize they had to. If you’re like them, you could be one website away from a malware infection.
In case you didn’t know, it’s practically impossible to release a complex piece of software (like Windows, for example) without including a fair amount of bugs and security holes. These security holes could potentially allow a hacker to attack your system without you even knowing about it. Typically this would happen when you visit a malicious website by accident (or a site you normally visit that has been temporarily hijacked), but some of the more serious security holes have involved receiving instant messages, emails, or even system messages received completely silently in the background. In any case, these messages or websites are coded in a way that allows the hacker to infect your system without you doing anything. You don’t have to download and run a file, you don’t have to open an attachment, and you don’t have to insert an infected disc or thumb drive. They’re called “drive-by downloads”, and they’re one of the most common threats found on the Internet today.
It sounds scary, but it’s usually not a problem. As soon as one of these security holes begins to be exploited, the developers of the software will become aware of it, fix the problem, and release a patch for you to install. That’s exactly what these Windows updates are, and that’s why it’s so important to install them as soon as they’re available. Want more reasons? Lets look at the situation the other way around. Suppose a company is being proactive and fixing a security hole before the bad guys know about it. Well, as soon as the patch has been released, it’s pretty easy for a hacker to figure out exactly what was fixed and start exploiting the security hole on any systems that haven’t installed the update yet. And just in case you might think that soon enough all of the bugs will have been patched and you’ll have nothing to worry about, just keep in mind all the new software and new features that are added to your system all the time–all of which could potentially have security holes and need to be updated. Patches, unfortunately, are here to stay.
So how do you keep your system up to date with all the latest patches? It’s actually pretty easy. The easiest and most important part is to keep Windows itself updated. You can accomplish this by going into Windows “Security Center” (located in Control Panel) and clicking on Automatic Updates. Make sure that “Automatic” and “Every Day” are selected, and set the time to sometime in the middle of the night. That’s it! Windows will now automatically download and install the latest updates on a nightly basis. You may notice occasionally that Windows wants you to restart your computer in the morning, which you should definitely do immediately. Other than that, though, you can forget about updating Windows now. It’s that easy to setup automatic updates, and there’s no excuse not to do it.
The harder part is keeping all the other software you might have up to date, as most software developers release their own set of patches. A lot of software packages have an option that’s similar to Windows, in which you can set it to update itself periodically. In addition, you can certainly try to be diligent and manually update any software you use that doesn’t contain a self-updating feature. However, there’s a much easier (and free!) solution to keeping all your software up to date, and it will probably be a lot more effective than the manual approach. It’s called Secunia PSI, and you can download it for free from Secunia’s website. Once installed, it will periodically check all the software you have installed against their database to see if anything needs updating and alert you if it finds anything. Some updates can be installed right away from within Secunia PSI, while some will need to be manually installed–but at least you’ll know about them.
Half the battle of keeping your system secure is making sure you’re always up to date with the latest patches, and now that you know, it should be an incredibly easy battle to win.