Another pretty simple one for you. If you surf the Web, but never update your operating system, Web browser, and plug-ins (especially Flash and Java), you’re asking for it. Every few weeks, another “exploit” is published — exploit being a fancy term for “way to take over your computer.” Software manufacturers (generally) work very hard at putting out “patches” — software to fix the software and make the exploit no more.
US intelligence agencies have been known to take advantage of these exploits to spy or to cause damage. The most brilliant example of this is the Stuxnet worm, which disabled Iran’s nuclear program for many months. But, more commonly, the attackers are people trying to send spam using your Internet connection, steal your personal information, or otherwise make a few dollars at your expense.
Most programs and operating systems have automatic updates available, in the form of little nag boxes that remind you to update your software or, sometimes depending on your settings, will update the software for you. Failure to do so leaves you exposed, and eventually you’ll come across malware that can invade your computer. Make sure that you update your software through the software’s interface, however. The Internet is full of ads that prompt you to update, which usually give you malware instead of updates!
tl;dr: When Windows or an installed app asks you to update, do it; but if a pop-up on the Internet asks you to update, don’t!
This is one of a 30-part series, “No Surveillance State Month,” where daily for the month of June I’ll be posting ways to avoid invasion of your privacy in the digital age. The intent of these posts is not to enable one to escape detection while engaging in criminal activity — there’s still the old-fashioned “send a detective to watch you” for which these posts will not help. Rather, this series will help you to opt-out of the en masse collection of data by the government and large corporations that places Americans in databases without their knowing and freely-given consent for indefinite time periods. We all have the right to privacy, and I hope you demand it.