In our technical support work, we constantly come across computers in need of major security patches for Microsoft Windows and applications that run in the OS such as Java and Adobe. Often times, the computer user does not even realize these updates are available, let alone, extremely important.
Over the years, Microsoft has tried to make it easier for PCs to automatically download and install security updates, but tons of computers can easily miss these updates for various reasons.
However, viruses and hackers don’t play favorites, and it is much easier to get an infected computer if you don’t keep your software up-to-date.
Here are a few of just several software updates you should pay attention to if you use Microsoft Windows.
1. Windows Update
Microsoft Windows is the most widely used operating system. Usage among all of its versions is made up of over 70% of computer users everywhere! Thus, it would make sense for an attacker to create a virus targeting Microsoft Windows. It’s no wonder that thousands of viruses have been created over the years, targeting the Windows Operating System.
Fortunately, there’s hope! Microsoft releases updates for its Operating System on a regular basis. “Patch Tuesday” is the second Tuesday of every month, when Microsoft releases security updates (also known as Windows Update). But if your computer is configured to not download and install updates automatically, it is up to you to manually apply these updates!
To check for, and install, updates to your Windows Operating System (for Windows XP and Windows 7), simply go to Start -> All Programs and click on “Windows Update” in the list of programs, typically above any folders.
You can also visit http://www.windowsupdate.com from Internet Explorer, and this will help you launch the Windows Update utility.
2. Java Updates
Java, which is maintained by Oracle, is an application that lets software developers create programs that can be run on multiple platforms (operating systems). Often times, these applications are website based, meaning they only run when you visit a particular website.
Although Java makes it easier on software developers, it actually isn’t used by the majority of website owners and software developers. Several PCs end with Java installed when they don’t actually need it. Several more PCs that do need Java end up with outdated versions that are filled with security holes, easily exploitable by viruses, when the user visits a website.
Earlier this year, several (very serious) security vulnerabilities were discovered in Java, so serious in fact, that it prompted Oracle to break from their regular quarterly patch schedule and issue a number of emergency patches. These vulnerabilities also prompted several computer experts to urge users to get rid of Java completely. Unfortunately, not everyone has applied these patches, so their computers are still vulnerable.
If you don’t use and have a need for Java, I would also echo the recommendations to remove it completely. To do this, go into your Control Panel’s Add/Remove Programs and remove all instances of Java.
If you need Java, only keep the latest version installed. Oracle currently maintains both Java 6 and Java 7, but very few websites and applications require a particular version, and can run on any version. Consider removing Java 6 (and only leaving Java 7) by going into the Control Panel’s Add/Remove Programs, and removing Java 6 from the list.
If you absolutely need to use Java, make sure to keep it updated. BU has put together a nice tutorial on how to update java. But most importantly, pay attention to the little icons at the bottom right of your screen beside the clock. If you see the Java icon, that means an update is available. You should click on the icon ( ) and install the update.
3. Adobe Updates
Finally, Adobe Reader is another program to pay attention to. As most people know, Adobe is the company behind the Adobe PDF Creator and Reader, Adobe Creative Suite, and other digital media programs. Adobe Reader is by far the most popular and widely used Adobe product because it (like Java) is free and is used to view PDF documents.
Unfortunately, like Java, there are potential security vulnerabilities that come with it, and hackers have found a way to use PDF documents to infect PCs that haven’t been patched with the latest versions of Adobe Reader.
Anytime you see the Adobe Reader Icon on the bottom right of your screen beside the clock on your Task Bar, you should click it and install the available updates.
These are just three of many software updates you should pay attention to. This list is not comprehensive but outlines some of the most important ones.