Updates and Security

Next week I will start a 3 or 4 part series of articles on how to get the most out of your website as an advertising tool; however, this week I am focusing on updates and security concerns.
I get a skewed view of personal and professional computers because I see them when they are having trouble. The ones that don’t have any issues aren’t brought to my attention. Regardless of whether your computer represents a delicious target for hacking or contains nothing of interest for anyone or anything else, you have a fairly similar risk of being hit with a virus, malware or even a directed hacking attack. As a result, the usual tactic of abstaining from updates until you have an issue may not be the best choice (if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it is more like sticking your head in the sand).  Yes, I share the pain of the almost daily updates and the disruption they can provide.  Some updates simply cause the machine to take a long time to start up (while I wait to use it when I was, naturally, in a hurry) and some disable “features” that I or some software package I use depend on; and still others reveal sloppy programming on the part of the authors of some important (to me or the user) product.  All of this and more are real frustrations associated with “updates”.
The complexity of modern operating systems, whether it be IOS, OSX, Windows, Android, or Unix (linux), has created a need for constant patching and updating to stay ahead of the virus and malware industry. The update may not seem to be important to what you do on your computer; but, odds are it, or an update that relies on it, are quite likely to improve your computer’s odds of rejecting some malicious code your machine encounters. If you ignore the updates (or reject them), you are leaving the door (your computer) wide open.  Because of the variety of potential attack vectors, the simple anti-virus packages that were adequate a decade ago really aren’t adequate protection today. Today, you need a good firewall, a continuously vigilant anti- virus and anti-malware pair or package and one or more auxiliary on demand protection packages.
Even the best Anti-virus and anti-malware products combined with a good firewall and up to date operating system (with all patches, etc.) will occasionally suffer an intrusion or infection; this is where an auxiliary package becomes important. These are usually stand alone products (scanners, security helpers, etc.) that can be run on demand when you suspect an issue or just prophylactically. I always choose one from a trusted vendor that is unrelated to the other products that routinely maintain the computer and its security. Each provider seems to have their own specialty and, occasionally, spotting an issue and removing or correcting it is the result of choosing a tool from the right provider. Since I don’t keep up on who’s tools are best at which problems, I often resort to trying a couple until the problem is resolved.
Choosing your security tools is very important because not all security products are on the up and up; some are traps designed to get your system infected while others are more aimed at gathering information for some advertiser than protecting your security. Often I will run into an advertisement or popup claiming to be the next super tool to fix various issues or protect me from all threats; most of these turn out to not be what they claim and instead make things worse. This is where I have a luxury most computer users don’t have; I have a sacrificial computer that I can try these products on and learn about them. If they turn out to be trouble or make a mess out of my computer, I can simply reformat and reload Windows or Linux and be right back where I started.
So, what can the everyday computer user do? First, I recommend going with the tools built into your operating system; most have adequate firewall products and these form your first line of defense. If you want something stronger to protect several devices, I recommend a firewall appliance (a small box that goes between your devices and the internet and filters your traffic before it gets to your devices). Next, a good combination anti-virus and anti-malware product (windows 10 comes with Windows Defender which is adequate for most situations but several companies including Sophos, Norton, McAfee, and Trend Micro also provide adequate products.). Third, I recommend products like the demand scanners from any of the above mentioned companies (most of these are available on their websites at no charge) in combination with products from LavaSoft, Malwarebytes.org, Piriform.com, Auslogics.com, and a host of others to try and spot anything that sneaks through the regular lines of defense. I want to be clear, at this point, that it is extremely important to have good recent backups (more than just one or two and preferably in a series going back days and weeks in case the bug(s) have impacted data back that far.); often, recovery from an infection will require restoring some data from a time prior to initial infection (backup media is extremely inexpensive and software to perform automatic backups is inexpensive or included with your operating system or security system).
As with many other things about your computing devices, if you have valuable information at risk, please consider contacting a professional before you have issues to help you setup appropriate defenses and maintenance routines, and once you believe you have an issue. The professional is likely to encounter these kinds of problems daily and have lots of practice resolving them (greatly improving the odds of good outcomes; and it may not take them near as much time to get you back fully functional).