The recent cyberattacks in Europe and on FedEx underscore just how important it is to stay on top of computer security, which primarily means keeping security software and operating systems up-to-date. That, however, can be a bit of a challenge and I'll explain why in a bit.
The method used isn't a new one. If you've heard of or fell victim to the "FBI Virus" from five or six years ago, then you already know what "ransomware" is. For those unfamiliar, it's a piece of software that essentially holds your computer hostage by encrypting the data on it until you pay some unknown outfit to "unencrypt" it. This particular attack was particularly bad; so much so that Microsoft backtracked on its long-standing policy about providing support for outdated versions of Windows in order to address it.
And that's where the challenging part comes in. A large number of Windows users still have these outdated versions of Windows (XP and soon Vista) still on their systems. While those computers continue to run, they no longer receive the kind of attention to security and updates that newer versions like Windows 7, 8.1, or 10 do. In many cases, especially with XP, these systems are used in mission-critical applications like hospitals and public safety. So what do you do when the software manufacturer decides not to support a product that still demands attention?
Well, that's for Microsoft and other companies to figure out. Although I can understand the thought process behind it, turning their backs on older versions of Windows may not have been a smart idea, nor can they expect their users to just download the latest version when they dictate.
That makes it even more important for users to make sure their security software is up-to-date and running. More than a few times I've worked on computers with expired antivirus programs. The danger in that is those programs won't protect against the latest threats because they're not eligible to receive the latest virus definitions, and that's assuming they're still doing any protection whatsoever! Something else to keep in mind: online "Security Scan" tools may be able to remove an existing virus, but they should not be considered a replacement for a dedicated anti-virus product as don't offer any real-time defense against threats. If cost is an issue, there are several free antivirus programs that are very effective.
Small business owners with multiple computers may want to invest in a good endpoint security solution. These tend to go beyond what a basic antivirus program would offer with such features as a built-in firewall, content filtering, and security alerts.
This stuff should matter because hackers never sleep. They're always looking for an opportunity to do their dirty work. Anyone can be a target (that goes for you Mac users, too!) That's why it's important to be diligent against hackers and make things as difficult as possible for them.