Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The most basic protections

If you haven’t done so since details about the WannaCry ransomware attack started dominating the news cycle, go right now and verify that all your computers have their current software update. That’s not just the computer you’re sitting at, but the rest of your family’s computers, your office mates’, and especially the 10-year-old computer in the spare room that you use to download pictures off the old video camera.

Start with any updates for your operating system. Microsoft sends updates the second Tuesday of every month and occasionally a special update in between. These automatic updates frequently require an irritating computer reboot that comes just as you’re completing a critical project. Search for “Windows update” from the Windows search bar in or near the Start button to verify you're up-to-date. Do not use web search as those may include ads that may give you malicious results. Always install all important updates and any Microsoft Office, Defender, or Security Essentials updates that apply to you (you don’t need to install language packs or other unusual accessories).

Now check that your other software is up-to-date, starting with your web browsers and document viewers. Many programs include a “check for updates” link under the Help menu. Unfortunately, few notify you or install updates automatically. Some may even want to charge for an update or new version.

If you find that you have Java from Oracle installed, be sure it is up-to-date. If you find Flash or Shockwave from Adobe, uninstall it now. Flash has officially been declared obsolete and will be abandoned by Adobe. Any computer that still has it will be vulnerable far into the future.

Other details

If you leave your computer running all the time the Windows and antimalware updates will usually be installed automatically including automatically rebooting. But still verify the installation monthly.

Although they may not be susceptible to this attack, don’t forget about the computers in your purse or pocket. Apple is pretty reliable at getting the latest software to i-devices as soon as it’s available. Android users aren’t as lucky since updates have to be mediated through Android, the device manufacturer, and then the carrier before they get to you. Apps may get updated frequently or never and can have less-than-desirable actions even when functioning as intended.

Many devices that users don’t think about as “computers” also need frequent updates. If you have a computer professional, they should be aware of the risks posed by equipment such as routers and WiFi. At home you may find that equipment such as DVRs, streaming media, security systems, and personal assistants also pose a risk to your personal information or the internet.

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