You may be shocked to learn that since January, Google has released at least 92 security updates to its Chrome browser, including at least one based on a vulnerability revealed at a recent hacking contest. Keeping Chrome current isn’t hard, as it will automatically update, but that’s not true for all software. Updates are essential to keeping your personal computer—Windows or Mac—safe.
When you use out-of-date software, “you are exposing yourself to known problems which are fixed in the latest supported version,” says Grayson Milbourne, director of security research at antivirus software maker Webroot.
Forgetting to update your Windows or Mac software is like forgetting to lock the side door of your house. Using unpatched software exposes you to new threats and significantly raises your risk of getting hacked. Storing out-of-date software on your computer can be a problem, even if you’re not using it.
Taking a few minutes to ensure that all of your software is up-to-date can protect your computer and your files from unwanted threats.
Besides being a gateway for viruses to enter your computer, out-of-date software can also be incompatible with newer applications. Keeping them all current should ensure that they properly work and smoothly interact.
Not every bad guy is going to try to take advantage of your vulnerabilities, but following through on update prompts (thereby locking your computer’s virtual doors and windows) makes breaking in much more difficult.
Few software applications are safe from the threat of hacker attacks because nearly all software connects to the Internet. Taking a few minutes to ensure that all of your software is up-to-date can protect your computer and your files from unwanted threats.
Keeping Windows clean
If you are running Windows 10, Microsoft says software apps downloaded through the Windows Store will be updated automatically. This doesn’t apply to classic “Windows desktop” apps. A good way to keep track of software downloaded outside of the Windows Store is to use a reliable third-party program such as Patch My PC or Avast (which sponsors this site) to tell you when your apps are out of date.
You can also manually check for updates with some desktop apps, such as Web browsers or Skype.
The procedure will differ from one app to the next, but a “Check for updates” option generally is accessible from an app’s Help menu or About screen.
Some older versions of software that are no longer patched could be hanging around on your computer, potentially creating a security risk even when not being used, says Cameron Camp, a security researcher at ESET.
To remove old software on Windows, go to the Start menu, click on Settings, then the “System” icon, then “Apps and Features,” which will display all of the apps with the date each was last updated. Click on Sort by Size, and a drop-down menu will appear with an option to Sort by Date. From here, clicking on an app will reveal an option to uninstall it.
In the ever-evolving landscape of cyberthreats, maintaining your computer’s security is an ongoing effort.
Once you’ve checked for the apps, you can schedule automated updates using Windows Defender. Type “Defender” in the search bar, or go to Settings in the Start menu, and then click on the “Updates and Security” link.
Keeping Macs clean
Apple’s Mac Gatekeeper can protect Macs by allowing only applications from the App Store to download. This built-in (and adjustable) security measure enables users to feel secure that everything they download has gone through Apple’s vetting process.
To update native Mac apps and others you’ve downloaded via the App Store, sign into your account in the App Store, then click on Updates in the toolbar. Uninstall purchased applications by clicking the Delete button.
If you’ve bypassed the App Store and Gatekeeper to download and install applications you’ve found on the Web from publishers other than Apple’s “Mac App Store and Identified Developers,” you might miss out on some automated updates. Although many programs will automatically detect and prompt an available update upon opening the app, for some, you might have to actively search for an update.
Once you’ve upgraded to a newer version of a software application, it’s safest to remove the older ones so that they can’t be hacked. If the older software version has not automatically been replaced by the newer version, drag its icon from the Application folder to the Trash, then, from the Finder menu, select Empty Trash to permanently remove the app from your Mac.
In the ever-evolving landscape of cyberthreats, maintaining your computer’s security is an ongoing effort. While it can be annoying to have to remove old software, keeping apps current and scheduling future updates should be as habitual and as important as changing your car’s oil.