Here’s the third layer of defense: keep your software updated. Software companies “patch” their programs to secure them whenever a new exploit is discovered. Using out of date software opens you up to that vulnerability. It is like unlocking your front door, opening it wide, and leaving town.

Hackers will find every opening on your PC.
Photo credit: Phil Berndt

Keeping all your software updated is not always as easy as it sounds. Many programs only notify you about updates when they are started, and the typical computer has dozens of programs that are not started every day. But there are malware programs that infect your computer and then search for vulnerable programs, waiting to jump into action when they are activated.

My first recommendation is to allow Windows to update automatically. You should also periodically check “Windows Update” … just type that in the search bar in Windows 7, 8 or 10 … and look at the settings. If you haven’t updated Windows in a while, be sure to allow enough time to do so before initiating the “catch up” update. Be aware that Windows can take several hours to update if you have never updated before, or if there are several updates to install. The good news is that once you get Windows caught up most updates occur in the background.

Other programs may be harder, as you don’t know when an update is needed. For any unique software needed for your business, be sure to open the program daily. One of the problems with this approach is the time needed, and the impact an update has on you when it is applied. If you haven’t opened the program in a while it may force an update. Your work has to wait while the program “phones home”, downloads the update, and runs the update routine.

You can automate this somewhat. Acumen Advisor can monitor your programs and update them in the background as part of the $8 a month monitoring subscription. This is the most “automatic” of the automatic solutions. But if you are thinking of just this single function there is at least one free option I think is worthwhile.

The best free utility I have found that meets our business needs is reviewed on my website: Patch My PC.  I encourage you to at least read the review and try it. It is easy to use, lightweight on system resources, and seems to do a great job. There are some exceptions that I outline in that article, but for most of you, this free option will be all you need. You can check my website for my experiences with one program that I don’t recommend as well.

This is also a good time to look at those programs and delete the ones you don’t use. If it’s a shareware / freeware program you know you can download it again if you need it. When I did this I had 12 freeware utilities that I no longer needed, some by software companies that have long since stopped providing updates. A program that hasn’t been updated in the last two years is probably vulnerable to hacking.

To recap, our first three layers of defense are to set up free DNS filtering, be aware of your PC’s health, and (in this post)  keeping your software – all your software – up to date. Each of these first three layers can be applied without costing a lot, and are perfect for the small business owner.

Next up: The all important fourth layer of defense, anti-virus / anti-malware. Including ways to get great coverage for very little cost!