Keeping Microsoft Windows Updated

Most people pay little attention to applying security updates to their Microsoft Windows PCs. Whilst the whole PC ecosystem does not have a consistent update framework there are two easy steps that reduce the most significant risks:

  • Operating System updates – these stop bad guys exploiting known issues and taking over the whole machine.
  • Browser & Plugin updates – these help to stop “drive by” exploits from getting into your PC whilst you are surfing the web.

Of course it goes without saying that you also need to ensure that you have effective anti-virus and firewall systems installed on the machine to further limit the risks of attacks reaching your machine.

Windows Update

Microsoft releases security updates on a monthly basis. These typically are releases on the 2nd Tuesday of the month (know as “Patch Tuesday” in computer circles). This can (and in most cases should) be configured to automatically download patches and update the machine. But it doesn’t hurt to occasionally check that everything is installed.

Newer versions of Microsoft Windows have “Windows Update” built into the menu system. Simply access the “Start” menu and look under “All Programs” for the “Windows Update” option.

Older versions, most notably Windows XP, need to be updated via the “Internet Explorer” web browser. Visit the http://update.microsoft.com/microsoftupdate site to access this.

Once launched Windows Update will analyse your system and present a recommended set of patches to apply. In most cases you should accept this recommendation and allow the update to occur.

The update may require a reboot at the end to fully apply the patches.

After the patches are applied (and reboot if applicable) you should check Windows Update again. Often “Update” cannot apply all patches at once and will immediately suggest more to apply.

BrowserCheck

Security firm Qualys provide a free BrowserCheck service. This examines your web browser and detects whether there are any updates required to the components within the browser.

Once all Windows updates have been applied you should visit http://browsercheck.qualys.com/

Qualys BrowserCheck landing pageForm most users the “Launch a quick scan now” button is the best action. Once confirmed this will present a summary screen with a list of recommended actions. Take these actions and recheck your browser.

BrowserCheck security scan results

BrowserCheck should be run on each web browser (Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer) that you have installed on your PC.