Don’t you hate the endless stream of software updates? Did you know that one of the most common reason people get viruses and malware is because they’re running out-of-date software? For years Linux users had software repositories where they could update everything with a single click. Now Windows users have access to a tool with similar results, called Ninite.
Many people speculate that since their personal computer holds no state secrets, databases of credit card numbers, or other high value sensitive information, they’re at a low risk. Unfortunately this is not the case. For most people, the most valuable asset that is worth the hacker’s time is your internet connection’s bandwidth. Hackers use automated tools that scan thousands of random computers for security holes, and attack whatever vulnerabilities they find. Using these tools, a hacker can build an army of infected machines to do his bidding. One common use is to launch a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) against websites. By directing all the infected machines in his “army” to a specific website, the hacker can overload the web site’s internet connection with bogus requests, making it unreachable for legitimate visitors. Of course the hacker could also install keyloggers and traffic sniffers to intercept your passwords to banking websites, in an attempt to steal your identity or money. So unfortunately, the everyday Joe is absolutely a juicy target for hackers.
Security experts estimate that on average, it takes a mere 4 minutes to become infected with a virus when connecting an unpatched Windows system directly to the internet. If you look at network log files, you’ll see that there’s a constant stream of computers all over the world that are constantly probing your computer to see if there are any exploitable vulnerabilities. Protecting against this requires several layers of security, many of which are transparent to the home user. Many internet service providers (ISPs) block common exploited network ports from ever getting out to the internet. If you have a home router (necessary for sharing your internet connection with more than one computer), chances are good you have a firewall in place that will reject all internet traffic that you didn’t initiate. And finally, ensuring your system is up to date with its security patches will help stop anything that gets past the first two layers of defense.
These days we’re running more exploitable software than ever. Web browsing has become such an interactive experience that it has required software developers build many different systems to deliver different types of content. Most people watch YouTube videos, which requires the Adobe Flash Player plugin. Many people visit websites that rely on Java to provide additional functionality beyond static text and images. Some download PDF’s for printing or filling out forms. All of these software titles are very heavily exploited by hackers to install viruses and malware. Adobe releases patches for Flash player practically every week. Keeping up with 10 or 15 different programs and their update cycle is far too much of a burden on anyone.
With Ninite, you simply run a single executable installer and all your software will automatically be updated to the latest version. You don’t have to download a new version of the installer each time – the old one will continue to provide the latest updates. You can even set up a scheduled task (on Windows 7, go to Start and type “Task Scheduler”) to run the installer on a daily or weekly basis that doesn’t require you to manually launch the updater.
If you’re running Windows, I very strongly recommend you install Ninite and set it to run regularly. Keeping your system patched is one of the biggest things you can do to protect yourself online. And with Ninite, the process is amazingly easy.