Microsoft introduced the concept of Patch Tuesday a few years ago. The idea is that security patches are accumulated over a period of one month, and then dispatched all at once on the second Tuesday of the month. Windows Update is a service that provides updates for the operating system and its installed components. Microsoft Update is an optional feature that can be enabled to provide updates for other Microsoft software installed on a Windows computer, such as Office. These updates can come anytime throughout the month.
If your computer is setup to automatically download and install updates, you will get any and all updates and patches, both good and bad. By default, the automatic settings will check for updates at 3:00 in the morning, every morning. If you turn your computer off at night, it never has a chance to check for updates so if you want to keep the automatic settings, you should change the settings to a time when you know the computer will be on. To change the settings, open the Control Panel and double click on Security Center. At the bottom, you can choose to manage settings for Automatic Updates.
My recommendation is to change the setting to the second option, which is to download the updates but let me choose when to install them. What happens then is that the updates will download and there will be a yellow shield down on the right by the clock. When I double click on it, I will have the option for an “Express Install” or a “Custom Install”. I always choose the custom install. That choice lets me pick which updates and patches to install.
I will always install security patches and program patches, but I never install new service packs when they’re first available. I’ll uncheck those and install the rest. I’ll continue to uncheck them until I know they are safe to install.
Just to be clear, when I see that shield, I will always check what’s downloaded and install what’s appropriate. The bad guys out there wait for the patches to come out also so they can create programs that hit all computers that aren’t patched. Lately, that attack will come the day after the patches are released so it is very important to install them.
Every so often, you will get a notice from another program, such as Adobe, that it has an update available. Should you install those as well? I’d say yes, since virus writers look for holes in most of the popular programs that people will have on their computers and will attack those programs as well.
I know it’s a hassle to do these updates, but do them since it’s more of a hassle cleaning an infected computer.
NOTE: One other important matter; create a system restore point before doing any updates. That way, if an update messes up the computer, you’ll be able to restore it to the point just before you did the updates. For instructions on creating a restore point in Vista, click here, For XP, click here. You can download a great document from Microsoft for securing your Vista computer here.
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