July 1, 2014

Updating the Software for Your Devices

Originally Updated 04/02/2012 © 2012 ePlace Solutions, Inc.

By Jennifer Paradise

Wondering what to do with emails that suggest you download new or updated software? What about those annoying update messages that appear on your device’s screen from time-to-time? You probably understand that updating device software is a key part of maintaining security. But, you also know that downloading and installing software can be dangerous. What to do? This training bulletin provides guidance on how to safely keep your device(s) updated.

Why is this important? Cyber thieves are constantly discovering software vulnerabilities to attack. Through such holes, malware can be inadvertently installed on a device – YOUR device - simply by visiting an infected webpage or opening a malicious file. The installed malware can then be used to compromise computer systems. In response, developers publish software updates, also known as patches, to close the holes and prevent such attacks. Keeping device software updated has become a key part of computer system security.

Sounds easy enough - install updates when available. But, cyber thieves are clever and try to fool users into installing bogus updates that contain malware. Separating the good from the bad is tricky business. Following the guidance below can help you learn to install updates safely. It will take practice, but regular software updating is an important habit for all device users to develop.

  1. Pay attention to what software is on your device. Notifications about software you don’t have are likely fraudulent. If you don’t recognize it, don’t install it. 
  2. Over time, learn to recognize the normal update process for your software. Only respond to notifications that fit the usual pattern. 
  3. Some programs deliver updates via software already installed on the device. These notifications generally appear when the application is launched. Installing these is normally safe. 
  4. Other continuously running programs (e.g. anti-virus and anti-spyware) may automatically scan for updates and notify via pop-ups when updates are available. This is a great example of why it’s important to know what software you have, and what update notice they normally provide. 
  5. DO NOT install software or “updates” directly from e-mail links or attachments. To check the legitimacy of an e-mail update notice, go to the vendor’s site directly - don’t click on the link in the e-mail!! If the site has an update for software that you use, download it yourself directly from the vendor site.

Keeping your device updated can seem like a daunting task. How to begin? First, it is critical to update antivirus and anti-spyware programs as soon as new definitions are available. Applications most prone to attack should be next. Focus first on the parts of your system that thieves normally target. These include operating systems (e.g. Windows XP, or 7), web browsers (e.g. IE, Firefox, Chrome), helper programs used to run applications and read/play files (e.g. Java, Adobe PDF Reader, Flash, QuickTime).

If in doubt, the safest way to check for and install updates is from within each program. To do so, start the program you want to check, click on the “Help” pulldown menu, click the “Check for Updates” menu item, and follow the instructions.