How to Patch Security HolesJennifer Martinez
In the offline world, a criminal usually looks for an open window or unlocked door to slip into your home and steal your most valuable possessions. In the online world, criminals look for similar "openings" -- mainly software vulnerabilities -- to sneak on to your computer and snatch sensitive data, commit identity theft, or hijack your computer to use it to send spam or spread viruses to other computers.
Though antivirus and anti-spyware software are your first line of defense against online crime and identity theft, closing your computer's security holes is equally important. The good news is that you can plug these security holes on your computer with what's known as patches.
Here's how to patch security holes and fight cybercrime on the home front:
1. Get patches Software makers respond to known vulnerabilities with free security patches, which are usually available to download from the software maker's web site. It's crucial to check for them regularly. Some programs are particularly susceptible to attack, so it's especially important to keep these programs patched: your operating system (OS), web browser, media player and email program.
2. Stay protected You can set up your computer to automatically check for security patches for your primary programs and to automatically download and install them as soon as they become available.
- PC For example, automatic updates for the Windows operating system will include any available patches for Windows Media Player, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. To configure your PC for automatic downloads, go to Start Menu > Control panel > Automatic Updates. You can find patches for Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and other Microsoft software on the company's web site.
- Mac On a Mac, you can go to the main Apple menu and click Software Update to get the latest patches. To set up automatic updates, go to System Preferences > Software Update.
- Web programs For most other Internet programs, you can usually find updates under the Tools or Help menu. For example: Mozilla Firefox: Tools > Options > Advanced > Software Updates.
Most software makers also provide patches on their web sites -- look for Downloads or Support to find patches and other updates.
3. Add more security Anyone who connects to the Internet should have firewall, virus, and spyware protection running at all times. While your Internet service provider might offer some of these tools, you may need to install your own Internet security software for complete protection.
However, simply installing security software isn't enough. Online criminals are constantly creating new viruses and worms that existing defenses may not recognize. That's why the best security solutions include an automatic updating feature to make sure your software is able to detect the latest threats. So to keep your identity, accounts, and privacy safe it pays to frequently check for OS patches, and make sure to update your security software on a regular basis.
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