University of Hartford Computer Security Series - Part II

Keeping your computer's operating system up-to-date

Computer security in the news
We've all heard the news stories about corporations and universities experiencing data breaches which expose personal data to hackers which could ultimately be used to commit identity theft and fraud. This and future articles will describe how you can help to make computers and data at University of Hartford more secure.

Software updates fix security flaws
Computer software is never perfect. All computer operating systems have flaws that hackers can exploit to gain unauthorized access to your computer. Once your computer is "hacked" by a hacker, or a computer virus or worm, often the attacker can take complete control of the computer and all of the data on it, as well as any data on servers to which the computer is connected. The vendors of the operating system running on your computer frequently make updates available to fix known security flaws in the software. New flaws are detected all of the time, and new updates are frequently made available. Does keeping your computer up to date guarantee that it will never fall victim to a hacker? No, however, it dramatically improves the odds. New flaws are found, hackers begin trying to exploit those flaws, vendors provide updates to fix the flaws (hopefully before the hackers get too far), you install the updates to fix the flaws -- it's a continuous game of "cat and mouse." It is important to stay vigilant and try to keep one step ahead of the bad guys by keeping your system up to date.

Software update requirement
An out-of-date computer on the network is more likely to be targeted by hackers, worms, and viruses and used to access your private information, or information on other systems to which your computer has access, attack other computers on the network, or attack the network itself, than a computer that is up-to-date. A condition of connecting your computer to the network is that you must keep your computer up-to-date with all of the operating system vendor's security updates. Should your computer be found to be infected with a virus, or to be exhibiting virus-like or hacker-like activity, it will be disconnected from the network immediately upon detection to prevent damage to other computers, and to deny further access to your computer and its data by its attacker.

Myth -- "My XYZ computer isn't susceptible to hackers..."
Many people are under the impression that their Macintosh or Linux or BSD computers are not vulnerable to attack. This simply isn't true. With Macintosh OS X, Apple completely rewrote the system to run on a variant of Unix called "Darwin". While this provides a stable, high quality platform for the operating system, it is just as likely to have the same security flaws found in numerous other variants of Unix. The same goes for Linux, and BSD, and any other Unix or Unix-like variant. While it is true that the much smaller installed base of systems running this software makes them less attractive to hackers and virus writers, make no mistake, it is just as important to keep these systems up-to-date. This article describes how to update the two most popular computer operating systems in use on campus - WindowsXP, and Macintosh OS X.

Keeping a WindowsXP computer up-to-date
On WindowsXP (and Windows 2000) computers, you can point your web browser to
http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com to download and install "critical" updates. (Or you can click "Start" and then "Windows Update"). For more details on using Windows Update, and configuring your computer to automatically download critical updates and notify you when they are ready to install, click the link below:

Updating your WindowsXP computer

Updating a Macintosh OS X computer
On Macintosh OS X computers, click the "Apple" menu and choose "Software Update...." For more details on using Software Update, and configuring your computer to automatically download updates and notify you when they are ready to install, click the link below:

Updating your Macintosh OS X computer

Where to get help
If you need help updating your computer's operating system, contact the Computer Support Line at x5999.