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IT Help Desk: Why do I get so many automatic updates?

Myrddin Emrys
August 18, 2016

A common frustration is being pestered all the time to update your computer. Your printer needs an update, Windows needs to restart, Java, Flash, Acrobat… These constant updates can certainly be annoying. But are they really that important?

The answer is Yes

Unfortunately, updates are something that you need to put up with in order to keep your computer safe. Some programs do a good job of handling updates quietly in the background. Firefox and Chrome, for example, don’t make you wait to update. They update themselves and the next time you open them up the new version is already up and running. Others can be a little less user-friendly, but it's still important you keep them current.

Why?

Updates are important because we've become so connected. When you're on the Internet, it doesn’t matter where a criminal lives, they can access your computer anywhere, much like you can receive a phone call from anyone in the world. On a more positive note, there are billions of computers, so it’s not like most hackers are out to get you specifically. It’s not like the movies.

Instead, imagine them like car thieves walking through a big parking lot. Hackers look for the specific models that are easy to break into. Your job as a computer owner is to keep your computer up-to-date so you can avoid unwanted viruses. Make it so they can't easily break in. Delete all old versions of software on your computer after problems have been found and patched. This makes it harder for hackers to steal from you.

But what if I already use an antivirus?

That’s not enough. An antivirus is like a car alarm. By the time it goes off, it’s may be too late. In addition, no antivirus is perfect. They will catch some bad software but miss others. Unpatched software is like leaving your keys in the ignition. By not updating, you're making it so easy that the car alarm won’t make a difference. You should still use antivirus software because it does help, but remember it's only a small part of keeping your computer safe. Updating your software is another part of that equation.

What should I patch?

Everything. But this is the list of software that is most often used by malicious software, and therefore, is the most important to update:

•Adobe Acrobat Reader

•Adobe Flash

•Google Chrome

•Microsoft Office

•Microsoft Windows

•Mozilla Firefox

•Oracle Java

Some of these programs (Chrome, Office, Windows and Firefox) do a good job of updating easily and without much hassle. But Acrobat, Flash and Java will often just tell you that an update is available, then it's your responsibility to do it yourself. In addition, Acrobat and Java sometimes include extra advertising junk in the update, so you need to pay attention and look at the boxes they are checking for you.

It’s frustrating to have to deal with this, but just like locking your car, this is a necessary step if you want to keep your computer virus and malware free.

Myrddin Emrys is the Herzing IT Help Desk lead, and has been with Herzing University for more than five years. He came to Herzing with more than fifteen years of experience as a system administrator and technical support specialist at several Wisconsin Internet providers.


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