Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Updating

Dealing with obsolescence

Update Your Device | Replace Obsolete Apps
Downloading | Software Security | Installation Hints

A section of a computer keyboard with a blue “Update” button.
Downloading but not installing updates is like buying new batteries but not placing them in a flashlight.

Update Your Device

WannaCry hit organizations around the world hard in May 2017, infecting over 200,000 computers in three days. Yet a patch for the exploited EternalBlue vulnerability had been available for a month before the attack.

 

Updates and patches need to be installed immediately and have an automatic setting.
Check Point Blog

Is Your Operating System Supported?

One of the most important security measures you can take is to ensure every device is running a currently-supported operating system (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows).

An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information.

 

Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows — new drivers for your hardware and more.
Microsoft

Update to the most recent version supported by your hardware.

When your device's operating system is no longer supported, replace the device (or take it offline).

Upgrading: Not Just About Features

Most people only consider the newer technologies and features when upgrading their software or hardware.

A more important reason is that new versions address critical security vulnerabilities because this can greatly improve stability and defend against malicious attacks.

Even older, but supported, software may not support the features that enable security. For example,

If you run an unsupported operating system you risk not only your data, but your privacy.

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Keep Your Software Current

Once you've determined that your device is running the most current operating system, check that all the software (apps) running on it are currently supported.

You should only run software currently supported by the vendor. All software becomes more dangerous to use unless it is updated regularly.

“Update your software!?” infographic -- click to learn more.
See the full infographic.

Software is generally supported (including the provision of free updates) until the vendor releases their next major version.

Most application vendors provide a upgrade discount to existing customers.

Check for Updates Regularly

“Check for Updates” at least weekly to determine if a newer version is available.

What Version Am I Running?

To find out what version is currently installed:

Update to the latest available version or replace the software.

Some programs will then automatically update to the next version; others will open the download page on the vendor's website.

If the program doesn't auto-update, you MUST download the update then install the major updates from the vendor's website.

Remaining Current

If there is a new major update, you will have to purchase it.

Be thankful that your software's vendor continues to provide updates and security fixes or you'd be forced to find a new program from a different vendor.

Interpreting the Version Numbers

Software version numbers are used to differentiate between different releases of the same software — usually major versions with minor updates.

Beta (or pre-release) versions of software is sometimes listed. Only experienced users should test beta versions.

For example, version 7.4.2 would breakdown as follows:

More about software versions…

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Obsolete? Upgrade or Uninstall

Once software ceases to be regularly updated or is declared unsupported by its vendor, it is referred to as legacy software because vulnerabilities are no longer being fixed.

Uninstall Legacy Software

Legacy software needs to be upgraded or uninstalled and replaced.

New computers and software can be expensive.

 

The problem with relying on an older computer is that updating to newer software — from apps to operating systems — can become more difficult. For example, your old applications may not work under the latest version of your computer's operating system without potential cost-extra upgrades themselves.

 

More importantly, relying on outdated operating systems, file- and print-sharing utilities, and applications can expose your computer and all the data you keep on it to tremendous risks.
Acronis

Quit Using Legacy Operating Systems

This also applies to operating systems including Windows.

If your computer or device does not allow an upgrade to a currently supported version of its operating system, you must replace that device.

Purchase an Upgrade

If the vendor provides a newer supported version, updating the app is probably the best solution since you're familiar with that app's capabilities. In most cases, this requires purchasing an upgrade, often at a discount.

Delete Unsupported Apps

If an upgrade to a supported version is not possible, even though the app is still useful you must uninstall it.

Replace If Upgrading Unavailable

Replace legacy apps with one that is newer and currently supported that provides the same function.

Purchasing a different application also provides the opportunity to review your requirements and to seek out new or improved features.

Whatever you decide, be sure it is safe to use and respects your privacy.

Keep it Clean

Uninstall any unwanted software. Regularly clear any unnecessary programs and data from your computer.

Unwanted software (sometimes called PUPs) can include the extra software that installs with your operating system, software included with your computer, third--party software piggy-backed on downloaded software or because of a misleading download page.

Update Supported Software

As new vulnerabilities are discovered, supported software is updated to patch against it.

Keeping your operating system and your applications up-to-date is the best way to eliminate the vulnerabilities to your data. You'll avoid crashes by ensuring your system is running the most stable, enhanced version of the software you rely on — and will close the gaps that can give hackers a toe-hold in your system.
Acronis Blog

Legacy Software: Dangerous to Use

Legacy software is software that has been declared unsupported by the vendor. Not only will there be no new features or upgrades, but vulnerabilities will no longer be addressed.

Over time, more and more unpatched vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited, making any legacy software increasingly dangerous to use.

No Security Updates

Legacy software no longer receives security updates from the vendor.

There is little financial incentive for vendors to upgrade older software and it is often difficult or impossible to add security features without completely rewriting the program.

Vulnerabilities in Legacy Software

Just because a product is no longer maintained doesn't mean that new vulnerabilities won't be discovered and exploited.

Malware, zero-day exploits and other threats thrive in an environment of legacy software lacking the updates that repair these vulnerabilities.

Newer, supported versions of the software, will continue to receive security patches. Hackers then check legacy software to see if they have these same vulnerabilities.

Anytime a new vulnerability is publicized, our threat intelligence team observes widespread scanning for vulnerable systems.
Unit 42

Legacy products will become more dangerous to use over time because old vulnerabilities are revealed when new software is patched:

Attackers are becoming faster at exploiting previously undisclosed zero-day flaws, according to Palo Alto Networks.

 

The company warns in its 2022 report covering 600 incident response (IR) cases that attackers typically start scanning for vulnerabilities within 15 minutes of one being announced.
ZDNet

Downloading Software

Be careful where you obtain software. Downloading and installing software from third-party sites can put you at risk.

Assessing Software

Search for what others have said about a program using the program name as the search criteria. Blogs often provide interesting insight to the usability of such programs and their relative merits. My recommended software….

Keep it Updated

All software requires maintenance, especially security software (be sure to update the updater regularly).

When a program is no longer maintained, uninstall it then find a currently-supported replacement.

Avoid Unwanted Programs

One of the things to look out for are the third-party optional programs (known as PUPs). These may be installed along with other products like Adobe Reader and CCleaner.

Krebs's 3 basic rules for online safety:
  1. If you didn't go looking for it, don't install it.
  2. If you installed, update it.
  3. If you no longer need it, get rid of it!

Scroll carefully through the installation option screens and de-select any extra software like Google Chrome, McAfee Security Scan, etc. before downloading or installing the software you actually wanted to install.

Refuse to download software from any site that makes it difficult to determine the correct download link.

32- or 64-bit?

Software is often available in both 32- and 64-bit versions. 64-bit versions are faster but you can only run them on 64-bit systems.

You can install 32-bit software on 64-bit systems, but not the reverse.

The Operating System's Store

Use your operating system's store where possible, especially for mobile devices.

Many apps on these stores have questionable experience and more than once there has been apps released that didn't follow proper security protocols thereby placing their users' privacy at risk.

Online Vendors

Windows has a long history of supporting software from a wide range of vendors, much larger than any other operating system.

Only install software you've downloaded from a recognized vendor's site. See installation hints for suggestions to avoid problems.

Windows 10S won't install software downloaded from the web and Windows 11 settings may prevent that as well.

What About Mirror Sites?

Mirror sites should be avoided unless they are listed on the vendor's site and always contain the most recent version.

Shareware

Unlike regular software, shareware allows you to try it out to see if it works for you. After the trial period, you need to purchase a licence to continue using it.

While many shareware vendors provide excellent software and support, they are often one-person operations. Support can disappear without warning.

I've used many shareware programs over the years, including NoteTab Pro which is used to build and maintain this site.

Open-source Software

Open-source software is generally free and shares its program source with anyone wishing to view it. This can provide for greater confidence in the software if it is widely used and vetted.

Examples of popular open-source software include LibreOffice and VLC Player.

Freeware

Freeware is similar to shareware, except it is free to use without purchasing a licence.

I recommend searching for reviews or comments before using either shareware or freeware.

Free Software

There is some excellent free software available to you, including LibreOffice, Firefox and GIMP.

Unfortunately, many of the free utilities, screen savers and similar programs available on the Web contain either malware or collect information about you or install unnecessary third-party software.

A quick search should reveal any issues.

“Free to Play” Games Manipulate Us

While free to download and play, many such games are very profitable. How else could they afford to advertise during prime-time television?

"Free to play" games manipulate us through many techniques, such as presenting players with a series of smoothly escalating challenges that create a sense of mastery and accomplishment but which sharply transition into a set of challenges that are impossible to overcome without paid upgrades.
Cory Doctorow

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Software Security

Think about the security of your device when installing new software.

Install Security Software

I strongly recommend using security software on all your devices.

Choose your security software with care. You are trusting it to protect your data, your privacy and to secure your system from exploits.

Not all security software is as effective. See my recommendations.

You also need to protect your mobile devices. Most security software vendors support these in some fashion.

Keep it Updated

Security software must be constantly updated to deal with emerging threats.

The time from the discovery of a vulnerability to when it is exploited is now less than a day. Zero-day exploits are usable immediately (zero days until exploitable) and affect even obsolete products that no longer receive updates.

Learn more about security software….

Secure Your Network

You cannot afford to be without an effective firewall. Today's computers and devices are continuously connected to the Internet.

No firewall is like leaving your front door open for anyone to walk into your home uninvited. Not everyone is polite enough to resist the temptation.

Your Privacy Threatened

“Nothing to hide” is a falsehood perpetrated by those profiting by collecting and reselling your information.

Your privacy has never been under attack as intensely as it is today. You need to protect yourself using legitimate privacy tools.

Your Router

Your router not only secures your high-speed access to the Internet, but it allows you to share it between both hard-wired (LAN) and wireless (WLAN) computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, game consoles, TVs and “smart home” devices.

While many issues have been fixed in newer routers, there are undocumented and unpatched vulnerabilities (zero day exploits) that both governments and hackers take advantage of.

More than half the routers currently in use are easily hacked. The recommendation is to replace your router if it is more than a few years old, especially if listed here.

Learn more about securing your network….

Strong Passwords

Passwords are an essential part of life today. They are used for everything from accessing your email to the millions of websites and forums that require you to identify yourself using a username/password combination.

Passwords and encryption can be effective tools — but only if you use them correctly.

Single Sign-on Flawed

Never choose to log into a third-party site using your Facebook or Google account (single sign-on). Instead, create a new login account using a strong and unique password.

Long and Strong

Make your passwords long and strong using random upper and lower case letter, numbers and symbols (some symbols are not permitted by some sites or vendors). Generally, the longer your passwords, the harder they are to hack.

Protect Your Passwords

Be sure that each site or account has a unique password. Reuse of passwords makes you vulnerable to identity theft.

Increasingly, sites are using your email address as your identity, making it very easy to hack your other accounts if you use weak passwords or use the same password on multiple sites. The following is only one example of how password reuse can have significant financial repercussions:

A total of 5,500 CRA accounts were targeted in what the federal government described as two “credential stuffing” schemes, in which hackers use passwords and usernames from other websites to access Canadians' accounts with the revenue agency.
Times Colonist

Use a Password Manager

Everyone has far too many accounts on the Internet. Humans have too much difficulty creating and remembering effective passwords. You need a password manager.

I strongly recommend Bitwarden. Bitwarden is secure, encrypts the passwords BEFORE uploading them and can be shared between your various computers and devices.

Multifactor Authentication

Multifactor authentication (MFA) provides additional security that isn't available with even a strong password.

Recovery Options Weak

Instead of hacking your password, the “Forgot password?” recovery option on a site can provide a much easier place to obtain unauthorized access to your email account.

People post too much personal information about themselves on public places such as social media sites where the answers to typical security questions can be harvested. The nature of these questions are such that many are easily guessed:

Many of these are items that you're prompted to include on your Facebook profile.

Protect Your Email Account

Some security protocols require you to respond to an confirmation sent to the registered email address for a requested password change. If your email account is protected by a weak password, this mechanism can be compromised.

Learn more about protecting your passwords….

Reliable Backups

There are many causes of data loss, including:

More and more our private information is electronic and stored on our computers or devices.

From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days…and the pace is accelerating.
Eric Schmidt (2010)

Learn more about backup strategies….

Planning for Recovery

The first step in planning for recovery is to ensure that you regularly backup all your data using reliable systems and schedules. The more frequent the backups, the less that can potentially be lost.

Having multiple generations of backups ensures that a problem with one set can be resolved with an older backup (you might not get everything, but most of it will be there).

You should also plan for disaster by ensuring off-site backups either via cloud backups or physical backups stored offsite.

Unfortunately, cloud storage data is threatened by poor security and government data collection policies.

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Installation Hints

Ensure a smooth installation experience and help avoid potential issues with optional software that you neither need nor desire.

Use Trusted Sources

Always download software from a trusted source, like the vendor's site.

Avoid the ads at the top of search results. Sponsored links are seldom good choices.

Uncheck Optional Downloads

Watch for preselected options

Watch out for “pre-checked” options like this example:

Watch for prechecked optional extras.

These added items help to keep this software free, but it are still optional.

Uncheck any pre-selected options before downloading the software (unless you truly want or need it).

Once downloaded, you seldom can avoid installing this extra software.

Assumed Consent Illegal

Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation, makes presumed consent illegal.

The manner in which you request express consent cannot presume consent on the part of the end-user.

 

Silence or inaction on the part of the end-user also cannot be construed as providing express consent.

 

For example, a pre-checked box cannot be used, as it assumes consent.
CRTC

Most software is sourced outside of Canada and may not abide by Canadian laws.

Check During Installation

After downloading the software, check for unwanted options while installing.

Google Chrome has become very popular by surreptitiously installing itself as the default browser as a paid add-on to other free software such as AVG, Defraggler and Adobe Flash:

Google is pre-checked in Piriform's Defraggler installer

Although it was an “optional” addon, it was pre-selected. Folks simply clicked through the options without checking them for extra software or anything else.

Review the Options

When installing the software, carefully review the options. Watch for:

Uncheck options you don't want before clicking “Next.”

Unwanted software can slow or harm your computer.

Some apps ask for unnecessary permissions that threaten your privacy.

Assumed Consent Illegal

Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation, effective July 1, 2014, includes definitions for presumed consent and express consent. The Act has significant fines for non-compliance.

The manner in which you request express consent cannot presume consent on the part of the end-user.

 

Silence or inaction on the part of the end-user also cannot be construed as providing express consent.

 

For example, a pre-checked box cannot be used, as it assumes consent.
CRTC FAQ about CASL

Invest in Good Software

Much of the software listed on this page is free. You have no obligation to pay for or donate to the vendor.

But consider this:

Avoid Subscription Services

I strongly recommend that you avoid subscription-based services like Adobe Cloud. While the lower monthly fee may be attractive, there is no incentive to continually improve the software.

Don't Use Pirated Software

Don't be tempted to download “free” copies of commercial software unless it is legal.

Pirated software usually contains malware (and if it doesn't, the site you obtained it from is probably infected).

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Related Resources

On this site:

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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/updating.html
Updated: December 18, 2023