December 12th, 2012

Securing Your Digital Life: Patching

In this new series, SMCU employee and tech-expert Tyler will be sharing with you tips and tricks for maximum online safety. The Online Banking Upgrade enhances security while you manage your money online, but there may be other areas of your internet usage that are not protected. Here’s Tyler with his first installment on a little something called “patching.”

As a tech-head, I frequently end up being the systems administrator for my family. Aside from the low pay and odd hours, the task affords me time to keep up on the latest trends in PC security. In this post, I outline tools that can help you be as secure as possible.

What is “patching”?

Sometimes operating systems, such as Windows and Apple’s OS-X, have problems, bugs, or security vulnerabilities. When issues are discovered, companies release “patches” to fix these problems. Once patches are downloaded and installed, the problems are fixed. Operating systems often automatically download and install these for you. These are the “system updates” or “software updates” that your computer reminds you about.

While patching your operating system is a step in the right direction, it often times isn’t enough to stay secure, because not all software is automatically patched with your system updates. Unpatched software is the most frequently attacked part of your computer that the bad guys love to exploit. Below are ways you can keep your software patched depending on what operating system you use:

If you have a PC

If you’re like most of us, keeping every application on your PC up to date is a daunting challenge. However, there is good news on this front. Secunia’s PSI program represents the first tool I install as I’m helping my family members install their new PC. In addition to Microsoft Update, PSI scans your machine’s third party software against a database of known security vulnerabilities. From there it will even install the patches necessary to fix the installed program. It’s truly a one-stop shop for all things patch related.

If you have a Mac

For you Mac users, I recommend that you get up to the latest version of OS-X that your machine can support. In Lion and Mountain Lion (10.7, 10.8), Apple released an “App Store” that is akin to the App Store that is used for the iPad and iPhone. What this means is that if you purchase your software through the App Store, patches for security updates will appear on the App Store, and you will be notified. From there you can update and maintain the security of all your applications. Mountain Lion also includes a new feature that prevents you from installing software outside the App Store.

If you use Linux

Finally, if you’re really a tech head, Linux distributions have been using Apple’s and Secunia’s methodology for some time. Depending on your flavor of Linux, you have a multitude of options to keep all of your software up to date. If you’re interested in Linux and want a smooth introduction, check out Ubuntu’s distribution. They have an App Store that rivals Apple’s with a large selection of free software.

Now that your operating system and software are all patched, your digital life is much more secure. While it may seem like a bit of a hassle, it is increasingly important to take precaution when it comes to digital security as we further integrate technology into our lives.

Stay tuned for the next “Securing Your Digital Life” post on password security.

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