Tips for keeping computers secure and software up to date

Lauren Ingram
May 11, 2015

This article, part of Penn State’s ongoing Secure Penn State series, explores tips for installing software updates and using antivirus software to protect computers and data.

To help safeguard personal information and University data, Penn State students, faculty and staff are encouraged to take the following steps. Additional information about each step is available below.

1. Check for and install software updates — or make them automatic

2. Use and update antivirus software

1) Check for and install software updates — or make them automatic

As cyber criminals continue to use increasingly sophisticated and stealthy methods, anyone with a computer or mobile device has become a potential target, making their private information a commodity that can be used for malicious purposes. So, while it might be easy to overlook software update notifications when they pop up on screen — especially when your computer seems to be working fine  — it’s very important to not ignore or forget to approve updates.

Keeping software current is critical because as developers make improvements to operating systems and software products, they send these upgrades to computers in the form of quick one-time installations. Sometimes these updates are enhancements to a product’s design or user interface, but often they are important bug fixes or security patches designed to address potential vulnerabilities, malware (a kind of malicious software) and more. In fact, many threats work by exploiting known vulnerabilities for which patches are available, so computers that don’t have all current updates applied are left susceptible to these types of threats.

To help guard your computer and data against such exploits, be sure to accept patches and updates from trusted sources as they become available. If you’re not sure a software product or security patch is from a trusted source, check with your unit’s IT support. Though it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to manually check for updates and patches, signing up for automatic updates and notifications is an easy way to stay up to date.

While it’s important to update each type of software on a computer, it’s critical to keep products like Adobe Flash Player and Java current. Since millions of people use these products every day on Apple and Windows platforms, they have become prime targets for cyber criminals.

Learn more about operating system updates: Apple users can learn more about configuring operating system updates at https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201541. Windows users can learn more at http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/updates-faq.aspx.

2) Use and update antivirus software

In addition to keeping software and operating systems up to date, using antivirus software is another important tool to install and use on personal and Penn State-owned computers. As an additional layer of security, antivirus software helps protect against the types of malware, spyware, viruses and other invasive methods thieves use to infiltrate computers and networks so they can steal data. Because cyber criminals are always finding new ways to break into systems, it’s critical to keep antivirus software current. 

When choosing antivirus software, select a product from a trusted company. Don’t click on Internet pop-up ads, which could be scams.

At Penn State, students, faculty and staff can download Symantec Endpoint Protection, a comprehensive antivirus package that updates automatically, at no additional cost for personal and work computers. Be sure to use only one antivirus software per computer since multiple products could make the machine more — not less — vulnerable to attack.

Download antivirus software now: Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to download Symantec Endpoint Protection for personal and University-owned machines at https://downloads.its.psu.edu.

For assistance or questions about antivirus, software updates and security patches, contact your college or unit’s IT support team. Penn State community members with college or unit-managed computers (who don’t have administrative privileges to make changes to University-owned machines) should also contact their designated IT support with questions and to ensure the most current software and operating systems are installed on their computers. 

For additional information about keeping your computer and personal data safe, visit http://sos.its.psu.edu/. Stay Safe Online, a nonprofit organization powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance, also offers security tips and resources at https://www.staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/.

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit news.it.psu.edu.
 

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Last Updated May 13, 2015