Similarly, in computer security there may be a thousand security tools to help protect your computer, but one mantra that keeps coming up is to "keep your PC patched and updated". Sounds simple enough.
So, how do you do it? You're not a computer expert or technical guru. So, how can you keep your computer patched and up to date?
- Use Automatic Updates: Automatic Updates provide a method to ensure that your Windows computer gets at least the Critical updates. Things like feature changes and device driver updates won't come automatically with Automatic Updates, but at least your computer will be protected against the vulnerabilities most likely to compromise its security.
To configure Automatic Updates in Windows XP with SP2, click Start | Control Panel | Security Center, then click on Automatic Updates.
To enable Automatic Updates, click the radio button next to Automatic (recommended). You can choose how often and at what time Automatic Updates should check for new data from Microsoft. You can also select what to do with the data. You can opt to only be notified about new updates, or you can be notified and have new updates downloaded, but not installed until you do it yourself manually.
The whole point is that it is supposed to be "automatic" though, so most home users should simply select Automatic and choose a day or time that is convenient. If your computer is on 24/7 on a broadband connection, I recommend setting it to download late at night while you're sleeping, like 3am.
- Periodically Visit the Windows Update Site: Automatic Updates is great for Critical patches, but every so often you need to check to see if there are other updates you need. At least once a month, you should check the Windows Update site to see what you're missing. To get to the site from Windows XP, click on Start | All Programs | Windows Update. You can choose between the Express option, which only downloads high-priority updates, or the Custom option, which will show you all available updates for Windows and let you choose which ones to install.
Windows Upate, as its name implies, is Windows-centric. It only scans for and notifies you regarding updates to the Windows operating system. Microsoft has introduced a new, more comprehensive update program as well, called Microsoft Update. If you haven't already installed it, you should see a link or notice somewhere on the Windows Update page where you can learn more.
Microsoft Update will let you know about patches and updates not only for the Windows operating system, but all Microsoft products including Office and other Microsoft applications. It won't update your other, non-Microsoft products, but at least it provides 'one-stop shopping' to update your Microsoft software.
- Check Your System With Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA): Microsoft has a free tool called MBSA, or Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. The tool, among other things, will scan your system and identify known flaws or vulnerabilities that are not patched. The report it provides you includes links to the necessary information so that you can download and install the updates as well.
MBSA also analyzes other security concerns on your computer such as whether or not there are accounts with no password, or whether all of the user accounts have full Administrator access privileges. It may be a bit 'techie' for many home PC users, but the information is good to know and the price is right since the tool is free.
The report generated quickly identifies which findings are Critical and which findings are not a major concern. It also lets you know the areas where your PC security meets or exceeds Microsoft's baselines standards, which is nice to know as well. You can click here for more details about the MBSA tool.