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The Tech Desk: Protecting your computer - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

The Tech Desk: Protecting your computer

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

In this edition of "The Tech Desk," contributor Duane Dunston tells us how to protect our computer systems. Dunston is cyber-security professional and professor at Champlain College. He shared tips on how to stay on top of your software updates.

From Duane Dunston:

Keeping the software on your computer system up-to-date is one of the most important tasks you can perform to help keep your computer system safe from viruses, worms, spyware, and other MALicious softWARE (aka malware). Malware is a generic term for viruses, worms, spyware, etc.  Keeping your software up-to-date or "patched" means your are downloading and installing the newest version of the respective software.  Software security vulnerabilities may be found that can allow someone to install malware on your computer.  The software patches fix those known vulnerabilities to help minimize the chances of someone taking advantage of them and installing the malware.

Microsoft provides a utility to help with keeping your system patched.  Here are the instructions and click on the link "How do I keep my PC up to date?":

On the Mac, Apple has instructions here:

Current versions of each operating system (Microsoft Windows and Macs) have an option to alert you when there is a patch available.  You should apply those patches when prompted to help keep your system protected.

Third Party Software

It is important to know that when you patch software using Microsoft's update utility or the Mac Update utility, it doesn't patch the third-party software installed on your computer.  Third-party software includes software such as Java, Adobe Reader, or Adobe Flash Player.  The most common method in which viruses and worms infect your computer are via unpatched versions of the third-party software - & . Some people use third-party software such as Chrome or Firefox to surf the web.  The Chrome browser patches itself automatically when you restart it and Firefox alerts you when there is a patch available.  Accordingly, some third-party software provide patches in the background without having to prompt you or with a prompt.

However, that is not the case for most of the third-party software that may be installed on your computer.  For home users, there is a software program you can download to help with keeping your third-party software patched.  It is called Secunia PSI - .  The software is free for home use and has a commercial version for commercial organizations.  It has an easy-to-use interface and has the option to automatically apply patches.  Secunia is for Windows and MacUpdate - - is available for Mac OS.  MacUpdate has the same capabilities.

Why is a software program like Secunia PSI necessary though?  When you purchase a new computer, it often comes installed with a lot of extra software.  This is often for convenience so that when you purchase a computer, all the software you need for your day-to-day tasks are available.  This comes at the price of you having to manage the patches for the software.  In other words, you have to take the steps necessary to see if there is a new version of the software.  Many people don't know how to do that so the software may not be patched for long periods of time or not patched at all.  That could leave your computer vulnerable to malware.

Keep your systems patched because it helps to minimize the chance of your computer becoming infected with malware.  One of the most dangerous malware these days is ransomware.  Ransomware searches your computers for files such as word documents, spreadsheets, photos, etc. and then modify it so that a password is required to open it.  Unfortunately, you may have to pay to gain access to your files or wait for an anti-virus vendor to find a way for you to get access to your files again.

If you install new software on your computer, be sure you install software that provides regular updates.

Keeping your software patched:

1.    Use the update utility that comes with your operating system.
2.    Check the website for third-party software that you install or that comes with the computer your purchase and sign-up to their support email lists.  They may help keep you updated on new software patches
3.    Consider using third-party tools such as Secunia PSI to help you keep track of third-party software patches

Watch the video for more information.

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