From the Kenosha News on 10-2-05

Daily updates protect your Windows computer

     How often to you install the newest patches on your Windows computer? Patches – also known as updates – are fixes to bugs and vulnerabilities in your computer's software. There are patches for Windows and for many other software packages.

     There is some risk with installing patches that your computer may no longer run properly or that some features will no longer work. A small percentage of people I know report that Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) incapacitated their computer to the point that it would no longer start. Still, the risk of NOT installing patches far outweighs the potential risks of installing them. Patches are created to fix vulnerabilities in software so that viruses cannot exploit those vulnerabilities. For example, in the July of 2003, a vulnerability in Windows' Remote Procedure Call (RPC) interface was found, and a patch was issued. The Blaster virus appeared in August 2003 and infected nearly every computer who had not installed the patch. That virus changed my philosophy of patching forever.

     If you have Windows XP and you have not yet installed Service Pack 2, you should do so immediately. Right-click on My Computer and click on Properties to check if you have SP2. If not, you can go to to "manually" get SP2 and whatever other patches are recommended for your computer. If you have dial-up or a slow connection, it will take a LONG time to download SP2.

     Once you have SP2, it will install the Windows firewall and the Security Center control panel. The firewall is not a substitution for patching. Most viruses come in through "ports" (types of internet protocols or communications types, such as RPC mentioned above) that are not protected by the firewall because they need to be open for legitimate internet access. So, it's important to use the Security Center to enable automatic patching or to patch regularly on your own.

     To access the Security Center, click on Start and drag to Control Panel. Double-click on the Security Center. Click on the Automatic Updates link. I recommend that you select the "Automatic" option to download updates automatically and install them. Select "Every day" from the drop-down list, and select a time that your computer is likely to be on. Click the Apply button and OK to exit.

     While in the Security Center, check that the Windows Firewall is turned on, unless you have a different firewall. Once you turn on the firewall, you'll be prompted the first time you access something that's normally blocked by the firewall. If you're doing something that you know is not a threat and you elect to "allow" that activity, that communication type will be added to the Exceptions list and you'll get no more messages for that communication type. The average user doesn't need to worry about any of the other settings in the firewall window.

     Lastly, SP2 also provides a pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer. It can be activated through the Internet Options link in the Security Center. Click the Privacy tab and then check the Block Pop-ups box. Click Apply then OK to exit.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 10-2-05