The Norman Transcript

Local Business

September 12, 2009

Be sure to get Microsoft Office updates

This week includes the second Tuesday of the month -- "PatchTuesday," as it's come to be known -- the day when Microsoft issues "patches" to fix the latest security and operational flaws that have been found in its products. Most prudent computer users, one way or another, access these patches through the Windows Update Web site.

Unless you simply don't care if your computer turns into a useless box of circuits, running Windows Update is not optional. Instead, it is one of the most important things that you can do to keep the bad guys of the Internet from wrecking your machine. Make sure that the "Automatic Updates" feature is enabled and that you install updates when they are available. I recently repaired a computer that had never run Windows Update, yet had been used on the Internet for two years. Before I removed 249 viruses and over 3,000 spyware programs, this computer would barely even turn on.

Over the past few years, the bad guys have also relentlessly started attacking the applications and programs that most computer owners use. So many security flaws have been found and patches issued for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser that computer professionals have taken to calling it "Internet Exploder." Security flaws have also been found in video/music players, e-mail programs, McAfee and Symantec/Norton "security" products, and even Apple's iTunes player. Many of the most dangerous attacks by the bad guys are now being hurled at Microsoft's wildly popular and widely used Microsoft Office suite.

Microsoft Office is a package of programs that can include, among other things, Microsoft Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentation software), Outlook (email and contact management), as well as Microsoft Access (database). Other versions of Office may include other programs, too. Some of the "hacks" that have been discovered cause your computer to crash, while others allow attackers to "escalate privileges," which is fancy-pants geek talk for controlling your machine. Microsoft's description of one of the latest patches for Word states, "A vulnerability could allow arbitrary code to run." Are you confused, yet? Just keep in mind that anything that allows "arbitrary code to run" is very, very bad.

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