NORMAN — I fix a lot of computers that have been filled with viruses with the owners often clueless as to how they got in trouble to begin with. A common thread I see running through most of these repairs is the failure of the owners to keep their computers updated.
Computers are not magic, nor are they static devices that never change. Constant change is necessary to a computer’s survival because, without change, it will surely be hacked. One of the immutable laws of the Internet is “update or get hacked.”
Understanding the updating process (aka “patching”) includes knowing what you should update and why you should update it.
This knowledge is fundamental to using a safe and secure computer on the Internet.
The “what” of updating is simple; you need to update your device’s Operating System (or “OS”), along with your devices programs and applications.
Operating systems are the master control programs that determine how a device functions and what it can do. Most of us use a diversity of operating systems every day without giving them much thought, but different devices use different operating systems.
If you use a desktop or laptop computer, then you are most likely using Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. Linux is another computer operating system often used by educational and scientific institutions.
If you use an iPhone or iPad, then you use an operating system called iOS. Android phones and tablet computers, such as those made by Samsung, use the Android operating system, which is a custom version of Linux owned by Google.
Many big-screen TVs made by Samsung also use Linux.
In addition to your computer’s operating system, its programs need updating, too. Popular programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, iTunes, Safari, Firefox, Outlook and Internet Explorer all require frequent updating.
Lesser-known but still widely-used programs like Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Java also need updating.
The “why” of updating is the dirty little secret that computer manufacturers and programmers wish would just go away but probably never will.
Why do we have to keep updating and patching our computers? Because computer programming is a very complicated and difficult job, and programmers make mistakes; they make lots and lots of mistakes.
The Internet bad guys know this, and they have nothing to do, all day long, every day, but search for those mistakes and figure out how to use them to steal money.
These programming mistakes, also called “holes” or “bugs,” are the Internet criminals’ bread and butter.
They invent ways to exploit the unpatched holes on a computer, which allows them to run all sorts of cons and scams, opening the door for them to install all sorts of nasties, like password-stealing viruses.
Because so many people don’t know they should update their computers, or simply can’t be bothered, billions of dollars are stolen every year.
I see computers every day that have been hacked because the owners are “too busy” to update things, particularly Flash Player and Java. Don’t let your computer be the next one.
Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com.