Operating Systems; what they are & how to update & keep safe
It is extremely important to keep your operating system up to date and secure, as this is basically your first line of defence. If you don't, you will be at a higher risk of malware attacks and hacking, so check to see which version you are running, what differences there are between yours and the latest, what date yours is supported until by the manufacturer and if there are any updates available that you haven't installed:
Windows has changed a lot over the years, not just in the way it looks and how it works, but also in how it protects you. All versions up to Windows 8 had an update system that was very easily disabled and/or controlled manually. Although this did enable users to decide which updates they wanted and when, it also left them open to virus infections, hacking and other malware if not kept up to date. This all changed in Windows 10, where although it is still possible to schedule updates, as standard, updates are automatic as far as most users are concerned. So the first step is to check which Windows version you are running (if you don't already know) and then check to see the support dates for your version here: Windows OS Fact sheet
This will tell you the latest Update or Service Pack that you should have installed on your device, the End of Mainstream Support date and the End of Extended Support date. So, what do these terms mean and why are they important?:
This is simply the last update package that was made available for the Windows Version listed. If you go to Control Panel/Programs & Features and select View Installed Updates, you should be able to find this number or name listed. In Windows 10, Go to PC Settngs and click on Update & Security. Here, you can click on 'Learn More' at the bottom of the page for information on updates for your build of Windows 10, or just click up 'Check for Updates' to ensure that you have the latest build and all updates. If have an earlier version and can't find this information, then run Windows Update and download and install all of the updates available for your OS - or, just do this anyway, as it is easier and ensures that you are then up to date. The exact Service Pack may not show up anyway, as these packs contain many updates in one package and you may have installed (or had installed for you) all of the minor updates separately.
This is the date when Microsoft stopped, or will stop, actively working on improvements and minor bug fixes for this version of Windows. However, they will keep working on security issues and releases security updates for some time after this date. If you have now passed this date with your version of Windows, it does not necessarily mean that is is now unsafe to use. This is decided by the next item:
This is the date when all support for this version of Windows was, or will be, stopped by Microsoft. This means no more security fixes, so if a new risk or 'exploit' is found, it will NOT be fixed and you will therefore be at risk of anyone trying to exploit this risk with some kind of malware. This is what happened in May 2017 with the Ransomeware that hit the NHS and so many companies in lots of countries. Your best way of avoiding something this is to ensure that you are running a current version
of Windows, or whichever OS you use. There is no guarantee
against it however, as it all depends on who finds and fixes or exploits the risk first - Microsoft/Apple/Linux/Google etc., or the hackers! So, check that you are running a currently supported OS and that it is fully up to date now!
So why is this so important? Well, if continue to run a version of Windows past the Extended Support date, you are risking your PC becoming infected or hacked. This is what happened to the computers in the NHS (and many others) that were infected with the Ransomware attack in June 2017. So, to avoid something like this happening to your PC or Laptop and you losing all of your personal files and data, it is extremely important that you update to a current version of windows if yours is now out of support.
You now know how important it is to make sure that updates (or patches as they are often called) are installed automatically, or at least very regularly, but how you you ensure this happens. If you have broadband with unlimited downloads, simply start Windows Update and ensure that is set for automatic updates, both for Windows and other Microsoft programs. If you don't have unlimited internet access (or 'data' on your phone or tablet if that provides your internet connection), you may be tempted not to do this and to turn off automatic updates, but there are other options. If you own and use a laptop or other mobile device that you use in various places, you can simply select to allow updates via Wi-Fi only. To do this on Windows 10 PCs, set your limited access connections as 'metered', which has this effect, only allowing updates to occur automatically when you are connected to an 'unmetered' (a Wi-Fi) connection.
If you're an Apple customer, it is not quite so simple to find your OS update information and support dates, but you can get a list of devices and some OS versions here
. Apple updates are easily installed, as Apple systems are generally quite easy to set up for automatic updates, if yours is not already configured in this way. However, it is still possible to find yourself on an unsupported version, so check your exact device model and OS version and get yourself over to the Apple support site to check it out!