Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plugged in: Take a hard look at software downloads for computer safety

Downloading and installing security and operating system updates is critical to maintaining computer safety. One of the most important approaches is to ensure your computer downloads and installs both routine and critical security and operating system updates from Microsoft. Although a few have been problematic, most work well and without fuss. You can turn on automatic updates by clicking on Start, Settings, Control Panel, Security Center.

Periodically make a manual check for other updates to your operating system and the proprietary software that interfaces your Windows installation and the specific hardware installed in your computer, such as video and network adapters. “Service Packs” are large, comprehensive upgrades that address many different security and reliability issues at one time. As a general rule, your computer should have the most recent service pack installed. Indeed, many programs will not even work properly if newer service packs are not installed.

To check for updates, click on Start, Windows Update. Internet Explorer will open and check what’s already installed on your computer and any available new updates. I suggest you use the Windows Update “Express” option several times until Windows advises that there are no more critical items to be installed on your computer. Then, try the “Custom” option to check for any optional updates to Windows components, such as Media Player 11, or newer software “drivers” that interface your computer hardware and operating system.

These are not necessarily critical items, but probably should be installed in most instances. Some optional items, such as Media Player, may require a shutdown and restart after installation, followed by a further Windows Update. Express check to see whether your newly installed optional software requires some security or reliability patches or a service pack installation. One might believe, not unreasonably, that the downloaded optional components already include all necessary security and reliability fixes, but that’s not necessarily Microsoft’s approach.

After ensuring that your system is up to date, use Internet Explorer’s Tools, Internet Options, to check your general Internet Explorer security settings, making a sensible balance between security and ease of use. Microsoft’s defaults are generally a fairly reasonable approach. Turn off the automatic execution by your browser of Javascript and Active-X components and ask to be prompted before running them. Doing so gives you at least a little bit of control over potentially rogue programs that might damage your system or compromise your privacy and security.

Next week, I’ll discuss third-party anti-virus and Internet security programs. Because of antitrust concerns arising in times past, Microsoft does not include any sort of anti-virus program with Windows. You’ll certainly need one.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

1 comment:

Williams jack said...

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