Though you probably don’t think of it as software, Microsoft Windows Update is a web-based application that’s a vital part of your secure computing initiative. As recently as last month, I had to clean up a system that had been severely infected with malware. One of the steps in my cleanup process was to check the service pack; turns out this user was still on service pack 1a because automatic updates had been turned off. (While some argue against it, I recommend that all home users turn them on; in a corporate environment, the IT department usually manages things.) If you’re still running XP, go ahead and install service pack 3.
That takes care of Windows, but what about security updates and patches for all of the other software on your system? Windows isn’t the only security risk — every application you run has potential issues. You need to keep ALL of your applications patched. Secunia’s Online Software Inspector is an excellent tool for scanning your system to discover commonly installed applications that need updates. It first looks for missing Microsoft updates then checks other software such as Apple QuickTime, iTunes, Adobe Flash Player, and Sun Java. My most recent online scan took less than three minutes and found 9 of 15 applications had missing updates. Needless to say, I patched them all.
Worth repeating: Keeping your system patched is a vital part of your secure computing initiative.