The second Tuesday of every month is an important day in the tech world. That's the day Microsoft releases its regular updates for Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and other products. Other tech companies, like Adobe, often release updates that day as well.
Microsoft used to call the day Patch Tuesday but it switched the name to Update Tuesday when it started including program updates along with security updates.
The security updates usually include fixes for serious security problems that hackers will take advantage of if you leave them unpatched. Program updates can be any new features that Microsoft wants to add to Windows.
Either way, if you want to keep your computer safe and get the latest features - which you do - it's important to install the updates as soon as they come out. Fortunately, you don't have to mark your calendar; you can set the updates to install automatically.
Even if you know the updates are automatic, there's still one very important step you need to do each month to make sure you're safe. I'll cover what that is further down.
On most Windows computers, updates are set to "automatic" by default, but it never hurts to double-check that you have the right settings in place.
For Windows 10, click Start (Windows logo), choose "Settings," select "Update & Security," then on the "Windows Update" section, click on "Advanced Options." (Note: the "Windows Update" section is also handy for showing you updates that are currently being downloaded or applied.) Under "Advanced Options," just make sure the drop down box is set to "Automatic."
In Windows 8, right-click in the lower right corner of the screen and choose Control Panel. If you're using a touchscreen, swipe from the right of the screen and tap Settings >> Control Panel.
In Windows 7 and Vista, go to Start >> Control Panel.
In Control Panel, click System and Security and then under Windows Update click "Turn automatic updating on." Choose "Install updates automatically" in the drop down menu.
You can choose when the updates will install. Updating usually restarts the computer, so try to pick a time you won't be using it, like during the middle of the day for your home computer or late at night for an office computer.
You will need to have your computer on at that time for the updates to install. Click here to learn why shutting down your computer when you're not using it isn't a bad thing.
Note: If you have automatic updates turned on, but the updates aren't installed yet, you might see a yellow security icon on the Shut Down button in your Start menu. You can click the button to shut down and install the security updates right away.
When you're in the update settings, you'll also see the option "Include recommended updates when downloading, installing, or notifying me about updates." This will also install updates that aren't critical, but that Microsoft recommends.
Of course, even with automatic updates turned on, you might not be as safe as you think.
Security firm OPSWAT ran a survey and found that 89 percent of Windows users have automatic updates turned on, but only 33 percent of those users have an up-to-date operating system in the days following an Update Tuesday.
What's going on? Well, most people are busy using their computer and tell Windows to wait to install the update. Windows will let you do that for three days before forcing you to update.
Unfortunately, by the time a security update comes out, hackers are usually taking advantage of the problems it fixes. Waiting three days to update is like getting a new security camera for your house because of a series of burglaries in your area and then waiting three days to actually turn it on.
So, while it can be annoying to restart your computer in the middle of working on something, it pays to update as soon as you come to a reasonable stopping point. Or just leave your computer on and let it install the updates overnight.
Want to make sure the latest updates are installed? Go to Control Panel using the above directions, click Update and Security and under Windows Update click "Check for updates." It will tell you if any updates need to be installed on your computer.
An updated computer is a good first step to staying safe from viruses and hackers. However, don't forget to install powerful security software as well.
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