Is Your Operating System Secure?

Category: Security

Is your operating system as secure as you can make it? A lot of people fail to take the simplest step to ensure that they have the best protection against malware and hackers that their Windows operating system can provide. Can you guess what they're missing...?

Securing Your Windows Operating System

So what's the one simple step that many people neglect? They don't keep their systems updated with the latest security patches and Windows Service Packs. It doesn't matter if the root cause is fear, ignorance or laziness. The end result will be a system that is wide open to viruses attacks and privacy invasions.

Microsoft calls these things "critical updates" for a good reason. Security patches plug holes in the Windows operating system that hackers can exploit to plant viruses, steal personal information, and enslave your computer in a botnet used to spread malware and attack other computers via the Internet. Service Packs are major overhauls of Windows that include prior security patches. It really is critical to download and install security patches and Service Packs as soon as they become available. So why don't many people do it?
Windows Update Security

Here are some of the reasons I hear for not updating Windows, and rebuttals to all of them:

  • I can never tell if a popup on my screen, warning me to install or modify something, is really legitimate. I'm afraid I'll accidentally download something malicious.

Yes, you should avoid clicking on unsolicited popups that appear in a browser window (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.). Many of these popups present dire warnings that your computer has a virus, and encourage you to run a free scan. See my article Fake Antivirus Software for help identifying the sheep in wolves' clothing, and remember one more thing. There is a difference between a popup and a balloon. Popups will appear in a web browser window, floating in the middle of your screen, and are generally to be avoided. Balloon notifications are attached to the little yellow shield on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen, and should be heeded -- especially if they direct you to apply critical security fixes. (See the graphic above for examples of each.)

  • It takes too long to download and install updates and Service Packs.

You don't have to sit in front the computer waiting for updates to be installed! Windows Update can be configured to automatically check for, download, and install critical security updates (including Service Packs) at any time, like when you are asleep or at work. In fact, this is the way it works unless you've turned off automatic updates. Optional updates that do not affect security will not be installed automatically. If you want to live without the latest mouse driver, go right ahead. But don't leave your system open to invaders. Type Windows Update in the Start box and make sure you're flying on auto-pilot.

  • I've heard that some updates 'break' Windows installations.

It is extremely rare for an update to cause a problem with a Windows installation. Even if that happens, you can use System Restore (or a backup) to return to a known good state. Users on Windows 8 and Windows 10 have the Repair, Refresh, and Reset tools. I've run Windows Update with the recommended settings (automatically installing all important fixes) for years and have never run into a problem.

  • Windows Update said my copy of Windows is not 'genuine' so I could not continue with updates.

In all likelihood, you are running a pirated copy of Windows. Maybe it came with the used computer your bought, or a new one that you purchased from a dishonest seller. Maybe, just maybe, your copy of Windows is legit but for some reason Windows Update doesn't think so.

First, it doesn't matter whether your copy of Windows is legit or not. Microsoft will still provide critical security updates through the Automatic Update utility described above. You just can't use the Windows Update service manually. If you know that you are running a pirated copy of Windows, do the right thing and purchase a legitimate license. Then you will be able to get all of the service packs and optional updates, as well as critical security patches.

Do you have something to add to this conversation? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Is Your Operating System Secure?"

Posted by:

MMcQuown
05 Aug 2011

If they had Linux, there'd be less to worry about.


Posted by:

FC Bock
05 Aug 2011

"•I've heard that some updates 'break' Windows installations.

It is extremely rare for an update to corrupt a Windows installation. Even if that happens, you can do a repair re-installation from your Windows CD. You won't lose any user data or applications, but you will lose all of the security updates and Service Packs that are not included with your CD copy of Windows. So you will have to re-install all of those updates and Service Packs via Windows Update. I've run Windows Update on autopilot (automatically installing all recommended fixes) for years and have never run into a problem."

This actually is a very big problem. If the update corrupts an installation your repair/re-install recommendation is most likely not doable. I know my computer (a new Dell purchased from Dell) did not come with a Windows CD. In fact none of the factory installed software was provided on CDs.


Posted by:

Marsha
05 Aug 2011

I have XP SP3. Occasionally I use a program called "BELARC", it tells everything about your computer including which updates you have and don't have. Supposedly I have around 83 critical and important updates that are needed. I use Windows updates and it is set to automatically check for updates. So are the ones BELARC says I don't have really needed.


Posted by:

Mike curtis
05 Aug 2011

I run a 3 year old Dell Vostro 400 with Vista Business and I do all of the things outlined by Bob but also run Open Secunia PSI. This is a free program that checks your installed applications software as well, to make sure that you have the latest updates installed, and warns you of any software that is vulnerable where there is no current patch from the provider to update it. It will install updates for you. I also rum PC Matic ( i recently obtained a years support for 5 machines for about £10 and use it for the 3 in the family.


Posted by:

Dave
05 Aug 2011

These are important checks. It also helps to check for malware before downloading files from the net, using online antivirus tools like http://www.findfiles.net/antivirus


Posted by:

Jon
05 Aug 2011

I've got an i7 running windiws 7 fully updated and with all bells and whistles firewall and anti everything security.

Unfortunately all the above is no help if some twerp (me) clicks on a popup without noticing that it isn't legit.

So it's a choice of either re-installing everything on a nice new SSD (if herself can be fooled into an early birthday pressie) or spending hours with websites finding 'win 7 security' removal tools that really work.

There is no cure for carelessness or stupidity, even for a 'newbee' who started on a ZX81.......


Posted by:

Lee McIntyre
05 Aug 2011

Bob, are you familiar with the Windows Secrets newsletter? They make a big deal of telling readers which updates to install now, which to hold off on, and which to never install. They do this weekly. (And they recommend one should NEVER allow Windows to install updates automatically.) It all seems a bit paranoid to me, but I would be interested in your comments.


Posted by:

Nezzar
10 Aug 2011

Bob,
I have followed your advice to download all of the Microsoft updates, and I have never had a problem. I agree that one still has to be careful while surfing the Net, but the extra security afforded by the Windows updates is nice to have.
Nezzar


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