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Science, Maths & Technology

How you can be more secure than the President

Updated Wednesday 23rd May 2018

To keep your digital world protected, you don't need to build a border wall - just follow some good security housekeeping advice

Donald Trump using his phone Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: The White House

This week, the press in the United States and UK reported that President Trump was refusing to hand his personal phone over to his security staff so that it could be checked and updated. Under rules established by President Obama, the phones are meant to be regularly examined as well as having features, such as their cameras, disabled.

As you can imagine, the phone belonging to the President of the United States is one of the most desirable targets for foreign intelligence agents and there is some evidence that phones belonging to senior members of the United States government have been compromised in the past.

The President’s reported refusal to hand over his phone on a monthly basis is because he finds the process ‘inconvenient’. And he’s not alone. Updating a computer or a phone to install the latest security updates is a pain – the updates seem to take forever to download and then to install. Many updates require restarting the device which can be inconvenient when all we want to do is get on and work or play. But, I can’t stress this enough, it is necessary to keep our devices and key software up-to-date.

You can minimise the inconvenience by scheduling updates for last thing at night, or by starting them running when you are away from the computer for lunch or doing something else – it is always a good idea to take a break away from the machine for a while.

Fortunately, most modern operating systems have made updating relatively simple. If you want to ensure your machine is being kept up-to-date, here’s how to do it on some of the most common:

Microsoft Windows 10

By default, Windows 10 performs regular checks for updates from Microsoft. The update is then automatically downloaded and installed on your computer. Windows will warn you if it needs to restart the computer to complete the update process – if prompted you should allow the computer to restart as soon as it is convenient to you.

If you want to check for updates, go to the Start button, then to Settings, Update & Security, Windows Update and click Check for updates.

Microsoft schedules regular Windows security updates for what is known as ‘Patch Tuesday’ which is the second Tuesday in a calendar month. This is on top of daily updates to its anti-virus Defender software and any critical patches that may be required.

Apple macOS

Like Microsoft, Apple operating system updates and security patches are highly-automated. By default your machine will look for updates from the Mac App Store and notify you when they are available.

The update settings are found in System Preferences (on the Apple menu). Under the App Store category you can choose how your machine downloads and installs updates. It is best to check each of the boxes labelled ‘Automatically check for updates’, ‘Install app updates’, ‘Install macOS updates’ and ‘Install system data files and security updates’ if they are not already selected.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not have a regular schedule for delivering updates.

On occasion, Apple has forced security updates on machines to fix the most serious problems. These updates are entirely automated and do not require restarting your machine.

Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad)

Updates for Apple’s handheld devices are entirely automated and you will be notified by a little red dot appearing next to the Settings icon on the homescreen. Open Settings, then choose General from the left-hand menu; Software Update is near the top of the screen. If an update is available, you will be guided through the process. This can involve downloading a lot of data, so it is best to do this using a free WiFi connection rather than a potentially expensive mobile data connection.

Most iOS updates require you to restart your device, so downloading and installation of new software can take some time.

Updates for the operating systems used by Apple Watch (watchOS) and Apple TV (tvOS) usually follow a similar schedule to that for iOS.

Android

Android is making great steps forward in offering security for its devices and the latest Android devices automatically check for updates and prompt you to install them. You can also manually check for updates by opening the Settings app, scrolling down to System, then About device (sometimes labelled About phone or About tablet). There should be an option called System updates (again sometimes called Software updates or Download updates). Tap Check for update – if updates are available you will be asked if you want to download them, then guided through the update process.

Google now performs monthly security updates for its own devices (sold under the Nexus and Pixel brands) as well as some other partner companies. You will be notified when these updates are available. After downloading the update you will be asked to restart your device to complete the update process. From my experience, the process is pretty straightforward and very similar to that used by the iPhone.

Updates, updates everywhere

That’s your operating system up-to-date – now it’s time to check your applications are checking for, and receiving, updates. With mobile devices, this is relatively simple – the iOS App Store and Google’s Play Store will both tell you if updates are available.

For desktop machines it is more complex; if you have used the Mac App Store or the Windows Store, you will be told if updates are ready for you to download; but many applications require you to hunt down updates – something that needs to be improved by developers. Many of them will have an option to check for updates, but it can be hidden. Places to look are in the application’s preferences, in the About… menu item or the Help menu. It is worth switching on any automatic checking and downloading of updates if they are offered.

Patch early, patch often

There’s no way round it – using any device is going to require a lot of patching. Fortunately, you can automate the process to ensure as little disruption as possible; but get used to those prompts – they aren’t going away any time soon.

And you did remember to check your antivirus software was up-to-date – right?

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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