Keeping Spies Out, Part 3

Dennis Faas's picture

This is the third and final part in a series on spyware prevention tips (access part 1 and part 2 here).

So far I've shared two tips that deal with specific pieces of software; the first tip was the use of an excellent (and free) tool called SpywareBlaster. This tool lives, eats, and breathes to protect your computer from the installation of spyware. In the second tip, I overviewed security risks associated with Internet Explorer and recommended using Mozilla Firefox as an alternative browser.

Today I'm going to share what is undoubtedly the single most important thing you can do to protect your computer from the infestation of spyware. In fact, this tip will not only help protect your computer from spyware, but will also other forms of malware such as viruses and worms!

Spyware Prevention Tip #3 - Patching Must Be A Priority

Without question, the number one defense you can take to protect your computer against spyware is patch management.

What is patch management, you say?

Patch management is a fancy industry term for updating a PC and ensuring that it has the latest security updates installed. Patch management is important because each and every day (literally) security researchers find exploits and new vulnerabilities in software. Unfortunately, some of these security holes affect popular software programs like Internet Explorer or even Windows itself!

When a vulnerability is discovered, the affected vendor will write a fix to plug the hole (referred to as a security patch). And in most cases, vendors will make their security patches available for free on their website. The trick, though, is knowing when a security patch comes out so that you can take immediate action and install it.

Though I can't guess the names of all the software programs you use, I'll bet at the very least you use or have used at least some of the following:

  • Microsoft Windows
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft MSN Messenger
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player

Though there are many who think Microsoft writes insecure software, the truth is that no software is completely immune to security threats (though we still contend that there are safer alternatives to Internet Explorer).

With that said, 90% or more of the spyware, worms, and viruses that travel the Internet every day piggyback on top of a security hole present in a Microsoft program. So, by making sure you stay on top of the security patches that Microsoft releases, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor and will be doing the single most important thing you can do with regard to protecting your computer.

If you've never installed a security patch, don't sweat it -- Microsoft does a good job of making this a painless process. Currently Microsoft is releasing security patches on the second Tuesday of every month, though this schedule has fluctuated in the past.

Microsoft's main security website is located here. Microsoft's security website for home users is located here.

I recommend you visit the above links if you haven't already, as Microsoft provides some good information at those sites. You can also subscribe to Microsoft's security bulletin service by e-mail -- this way you are alerted to any new vulnerability that is discovered (you'll find information on how to subscribe to this service at the above URLs).

I hope you enjoyed our series on spyware prevention tips. This was by no means an exhaustive list, but I guarantee that by following these tips you will be well on your way toward protecting your computer from the onslaught of spyware.

If you have any feedback or other tips you'd like to share, please be sure to let me know!

Until next time, stay safe...

For more great tips like this one, be sure to download David's free security newsletter to your mailbox, today!

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