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Check regularly for program updates

Answered December 9, 2012

If you use a desktop or laptop computer running Windows, then you're probably familiar with what's called "Patch Tuesday". It happens on the second Tuesday of every month, when Microsoft distributes its latest program updates (or "patches") for the Windows operating system, as well as other related Microsoft programs.

Most people should have their computers set to automatically accept those updates, because they are really important for ensuring that your computer is protected from viruses and other kinds of attack. The crooks who are out to steal your identity or turn your computer into a spam-producing "bot" are constantly testing the boundaries of things like your operating system, so getting those monthly updates from Microsoft is essential to securing your machine.

But did you realize that you should also be checking the programs you run, probably also about once a month? See, the "Patch Tuesday" update is really aimed mostly at your operating system and a couple of Microsoft-made programs. But you're probably running at least a dozen programs that *aren't* from Microsoft -- and probably more. Yet those programs can also contain security vulnerabilities that leave you prone to attack.

It's not that the program creators are out to endanger you, either. It's simply that the crooks have a lot of time and a lot of computing power at their disposal to try to test these attacks, and a lot of incentive to get it right. So we rely on the program authors to issue their own updates to keep your computer in peak shape.

It's not just about security, either -- programs like web browsers (and here, we're talking about Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and others) are so widely and heavily used and are in such tough competition with one another that their producers are updating them constantly.

While some programs make it easier to find than others, the first place you should look for updates is to open up the program and look for the "Help" menu. More often than not, there's a link under the "Help" menu that says something like "Check for updates". Just click and follow the instructions. When that option doesn't appear, you can usually stay with the "Help" menu and look for a link that says "About". That often takes you to an alternative update link, or will at least give you the version number of the program.

With the version number in-hand, you can go to the website where you got the program and compare the number on their latest edition to the one you're using. If it's been a while since you've done this, you might be very surprised at what you've been missing. You can usually download an update straight from the website.

Just be sure to back up your essential data prior to updating any programs on your machine.