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Windows Vista

Using Windows Security Center (part 2) - Configuring Automatic Updating

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4/11/2011 7:05:43 PM

Configuring Automatic Updating

A critical aspect of maintaining security is to keep operating systems up to date. Over time, security or reliability problems might be found, and updates are necessary to avoid any potential problems. For example, a security vulnerability might be found in a component of Windows Vista. Malicious users who are aware of this can target systems that haven’t been updated, and such users might be able to make modifications to the system or access sensitive data.

To reduce these risks, Windows Vista includes an automatic update feature that can be used to download new updates to the operating system. Windows Update works by periodically contacting servers at Microsoft over the Internet to obtain a list of available updates. It then compares the current state of the computer (including which updates have already been installed and which features are enabled) and determines whether updates are required. If they are required, Windows Update can optionally download and install them.

Windows Security Center provides an overview of the current settings for related to automating updates. Figure 7-8 provides an example.

Figure 8. Using Windows Security Center to monitor the status of automatic updates

The recommended configuration setting for automatic updates is for new updates to be installed automatically. When this setting is chosen, the Automatic Updating item appears green in Windows Security Center.

Changing Windows Update Settings

In addition to the recommended configuration of automatically downloading and installing updates, users have several other options. You can change the settings for Windows Update by first clicking Security in Control Panel, clicking Windows Update, and then clicking Change Settings (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Changing settings for Windows Update

The options include the following:

  • Install Updates Automatically (Recommended) This option specifies that Windows Vista automatically attempts to download and install all updates based on the defined schedule. Options include choosing a particular day and time to run every week or choosing Every Day. As mentioned earlier, when you select this option, the Windows Security Center Automatic Updating section appears green.

  • Download Updates But Let Me Choose Whether To Install Them This option specifies that Windows Vista should automatically download updates but that it does not install these updates until a user chooses to do so. The benefit of this method is that it minimizes the potential performance impact to the system while updates are being installed. The problem, however, is that the user might forget to install the updates, thereby leaving the system without the updates for significant periods. For this reason, Windows Security Center shows the Automatic Updating item as yellow when this option is selected.

  • Check For Updates But Let Me Choose Whether To Download And Install Them This option instructs Windows Vista to contact the Windows Update servers periodically for information about new updates, but it does not automatically download or install them. When this option is selected, Windows Security Center shows a yellow warning for Automatic Updating.

  • Never Check For Updates (Not Recommended) This setting effectively disables Windows Update and prevents Windows Vista from checking for, downloading, and installing any new updates that might be available. This option is particularly risky because users of the computer will be unaware of potential security problems. For this reason, Windows Security Center displays the Automatic Updating item in red when this option is selected.

When supporting customers’ computers running Windows Vista, the recommended option of automatically downloading and installing updates is often the most appropriate. In some cases, users might want more control over which updates are installed and when. One possible reason for this is to limit the performance impacts of installing the updates and then requiring a system reboot. It is important to make users understand, however, that keeping their systems updated by installing updates as soon as possible is a critical component of overall system security.

Using Windows Security Center to Modify Update Settings

Whenever Windows Security Center shows a yellow or red warning for the Automatic Updating item, the details of the item includes a Change Settings button that enables users and Consumer Support Technicians to change their settings quickly and easily without having to open another dialog box manually. Figure 10 shows the options that are available.

Figure 10. Changing automatic updating settings by using Windows Security Center

The first option automatically configures the Windows Update settings to the recommended value to download and install updates automatically based on a schedule. Clicking the second option opens the Windows Update Change Settings dialog box, which enables the user to make other selections. When changes are made and applied, the Windows Security Center display is automatically refreshed to show the current security status of the computer.

Real World

Anil Desai

In the early days of desktop computers, the most common configuration (especially in a home environment) was to have computers run in a stand-alone configuration. Often, the only way to get data between systems was by using removable media such as floppy disks (a process that is humorously referred to as “sneakernet”). Over time, the benefits of connecting computers together using a network became indispensible. Today, it’s not uncommon for homes and small businesses to have multiple computers, and they need to be able to communicate with each other. The rise in popularity of the Internet brought another leap in connectivity. Now, just about every computer in the world has the potential to connect with any other.

The downside of networking is that computers are now vulnerable to a wide array of potentially malicious software infections and attacks. As a Consumer Support Technician, your customers rely on you to provide them with protection against these potential problems. Although you have many technical features and applications to help you take care of the job, it’s important also to educate users about potential security issues.

Computer users who are new to the Internet often trust everything they read. Offers to install software that will magically improve system performance and or reveal get-rich-quick schemes are very common on the Internet. It can be helpful to instill a healthy dose of skepticism in newer users. They should always consider the source of the information they’re receiving, and they should practice “defensive computing” wherever possible.

A common method of obtaining sensitive information is through the use of phishing or social engineering. These methods trick users into providing details such as name, address, national ID numbers, credit card information, and passwords. They can also be surprisingly effective, especially with trusting users. Often, a basic understanding of common schemes is enough to prevent such schemes from being effective.

Another security issue is related to the perception of computing risks. When supporting end users, I have often talked to customers who are almost afraid of using their computers because of these risks. They tend to hear about data loss, identity theft, and other issues in the popular media. Often, the reports are overly sensationalized in popular media. There are certainly risks with performing any type of action such as connecting to the Internet, but it can be helpful to reassure customers that, with a little diligence, systems and information can remain well protected. Overall, there are numerous potential security risks, but most can be addressed with a little knowledge and care.

Other -----------------
- Using Windows Security Center (part 1) - Overview of Windows Security Center & Configuring Windows Firewall
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- Configuring Parental Controls (part 1) - Understanding Parental Controls
- Working with Mobile Devices (part 2) - Using Windows Sync Center
- Working with Mobile Devices (part 1) - Using Windows Mobility Center
- Installing and Managing Media Devices (part 4) - Installing and Managing Printers
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