M-209 cryptographic device.

Cybersecurity Basics:
Update Everything

Stay Up To Date

The most important thing to do first is to keep your computers and phones updated. So many hacks and data thefts wouldn't have happened if people had only kept their systems up to date.

Yes, it feels tedious to do routine maintenance like updating your operating system and applications. Here's a cybersecurity insight:

Security and convenience are inversely proportional.

That is, to make one go up you usually have to make the other go down. The goal of security is to make things impossible (or at least really difficult) for the bad guys. However, there is often some "collateral damage". Security improvements can inconvenience the good guys. But...

Good news: you can automate your updates!

On Windows, go to:
Start > Control Panel > System and Security

Windows 7 Control Panel

Click Start > Control Panel > System and Security

Windows 7 Control Panel > System and Security

Within System and Security you can control automatic updating, and manually find and apply updates.

In the Windows Update section, select Turn automatic updating on or off and turn it on. Problem solved, let the machine do it. Now your operating system will update itself automatically!

Windows 7 Control Panel > Automated updating

This system will update itself in the middle of the night.

Windows 7 Control Panel > Manual update check

10 important updates are available, 5 for the Office software suite and 5 for the operating system. All of them have been selected.

You can also check for updates and apply them manually. Above, we see a system where 5 updates are available for the Windows operating system itself, plus 5 more for the Office 2010 software suite.

Now we can apply the selected updates.

Windows 7 Control Panel > Manual update check

All 10 of those important updates are going to be installed. The 30 optional updates are foreign language packs.

The Microsoft Windows update tool handles the Windows operating system and applications, but that's it. You have to manually update added packages like the Chrome browser, Adobe Reader, Java, and so on.

I showed Windows updates first, but of course other operating systems have similar tools. Here is the Update Manager running on a Linux Mint desktop. It is going to update operating system components, user programs, and the third-party Chromium browser as soon as I click on the Install Updates button in the first picture below.

Linux Mint update manager

The Update Manager, actually the mintupdate program, on the Mint distribution of Linux.

Linux Mint update manager upgrading to a new release

The Update Manager program upgrading to a new release of the Mint distribution of Linux.

You can even use the Update Manager to upgrade your system to newer versions of the distribution. Just click the Edit menu and see if an upgrade is available, as shown in the last picture above.

Updating will eventually mean moving to a newer operating system, which may require you to buy new hardware.

See how insecure IE 6 on Windows XP would be

This is an annoyance, but it's necessary. Older systems simply don't have what we now realize are required security features. It's like how cars didn't have seatbelts even as an optional add-on until the late 1940s into the mid 1950s.

Don't try to be safe on the Internet using outdated systems.

Next: Protect smart phones and tablets ❯