November 3rd, 2015
When is your computer completely safe? When it’s switched off. That’s an old geek truism to get started… 😉
But there are other factors reducing your security:
- when viruses arrive;
- when antivirus software is not installed or not up to date;
- when your firewall software is not working;
- when Windows Updates have not been applied;
- when you don’t browse carefully;
- when your programs are not kept up to date.
It’s that last one I’m going to discuss today (yes, that’s why it’s in bold there – I don’t just throw this together, you know!).
New software versions seem to come out all the time. If it’s not Microsoft throwing Windows 10 at us it’s Adobe Flash needing another update, or Firefox installing a new version.
We can moan and be cynical about it (boy, can we!) but when it comes down to it this is essential for security. Adobe Flash is widely installed, so it’s a great choice for criminals to target. Firefox is where your computer meets the outside world, so needs to keep security a top concern. And so on…
Windows is a mixture: of course Microsoft aren’t going to sell you one version of software and then give everyone free updates forever – that’s no way to run a business. But at the same time Windows has to incorporate new technology like Wi-Fi and USB 3.0 (both absent in the original versions of Windows XP), and each new feature needs to be secure.
Updates are a necessary evil in this world. So if we accept that, how do we play our part?
Update your software
Here’s how updates generally get onto your PC:
- Automatically: Firefox and Thunderbird (an email program) will updated themselves quietly in the background, and install the update when you next open them.
- With a taskbar notification: The likes of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash, and the much-hated Java will pop up a little message in the bottom right of the screen telling you they need to be updated. Just click the message and follow the instructions. And if you see such messages elsewhere, such as in your web browser, then ignore them in case they’re malicious.
- Manually: some programs need you to visit their website and check to see if a newer version exists. This can be tedious, and may involve looking in the Help menu in the program itself, and looking for ‘About…’ or something similar. There you might be able to find out the version number, then visit said website and check if a higher version is ready for download.
Use a free tool to remind you of updates
So now you know how to keep your computer up to date, why its’ important, and just how tedious it can be. I mean, how often do you want to go through ‘Help > About… > Check version number > Check website > Download new version > Install new version’? I think Never.
Luckily there are two tools on offer which can help:
- Filehippo App Manager: this tool is named after the popular download website, Filehippo, which distributes it. If you’ve downloaded your software from Filehippo (or at least it’s available there) then this will monitor those applications and tell you if a newer version is ready to install. The software sends information about what software you have on your PC (there’s no way it could do its job otherwise) and I’m sure they’ll be using that data to help them improve their bottom line, but that might be fine with you in helping you stay up to date.
- Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI): this comes from the respected security people at Secunia, who regularly release news about dangers to your computer. They want nothing more than to protect you, and so this is my preferred way of staying up to date. In addition, the PSI itself automatically updates, which wins your computer’s security extra bonus marks.
One more thing…
Keeping all your software up to date is hard work. If you’re not monitoring it often enough then it’s more likely that a virus or other nasty will sneak through.
But there is another tip to reduce that workload and let you get on with the real reason you bought that PC: remove unused programs.
Go into the Control Panel, find the Add/Remove Programs section and open it. Here you’ll find a list of everything installed on your computer, bar Windows itself. Have a look through and see if you can spot things you no longer need, or never used in the first place. Do you need those toolbars? How about the Tune-Up software? Have you got an extra spreadsheet program or web browser you never open?
Ridding yourself of all this is another step along the road to safe computing. And while we’re on that topic, remember to carefully judge each new software title: is it something you really need, does it come with any unwanted extras? And if you find you don’t need it, get rid of it. It’s one less thing to worry about.
Ship Shape Security Audit
These tips come from the dozens of laptops and desktops that I’ve helped rescue from virus hell or slwo-down limbo. At Ship Shape Computers I offer a Security Audit, where I check on whether you need everything that’s installed, and whether your software needs updating. It’s currently just £45, and can be combined with my Computer Speed-Up service (normally £45) for a combined price of £75.
Get in touch with me via the Contact page, and get that old machine up to speed again!