About two weeks ago Skype announced its participation with Symantec, Adobe and TomTom in International Technology Upgrade week. Backed by a survey of users in the U.S., U.K. and Germany that demonstrated a significant lack of awareness of the importance of software updates, Skype had been explaining why it is important that these software updates are installed as soon as possible. While their notifications are often ignored as a nuisance, they are a basic necessity to keep you free from malicious activity such as viruses, malware and phishing as well as to enhance your Skype and general PC performance.
Yesterday I ended up helping a family friend, whom I’ll call Gertrude, who got hit badly by a security breach. We first noticed something amiss when we received this email from Gertrude:
I’m sorry for this emergency and for not informing you about my Olympic trip to London, United Kingdom has been a mess. I was having a great time until last night when we got mugged and lost all my cash,credit card cellphone It has been a scary experience, I was hit at the back of my neck with a Gun Anyway..I’m still alive and that’s what’s important. I’m financially strapped right now and need your help. I need you to loan me the sum of $1,600 I’ll refund it to you as soon as i arrive home.Email me back so i can tell you how to get it to me.
Given the sender had misspelled Gertrude’s name at the end of the message and we knew she was at home near Toronto, we quickly realized this was the result of phishing malware. Her PC had become infected. When I called her later it turns out all her Yahoo email account information had also been wiped out, including Contacts and email messages. At first glance one might say Yahoo was responsible for not providing the appropriate security but, on further investigation, that was not the case. Someone had discovered her login information via her unprotected PC and then broken into her account. Yahoo only protects against spam email, not malicious software that can be buried into your PC.
When I was given access to her PC I found the following;
No Windows Update had been done since March
Her Norton 360 (a Symantec product) had been uninstalled by an acquaintance who felt it was slowing down her PC. After all she was told, “she only used her PC for email, web browsing and creating documents.”
In my recently published eBook, Experience Skype to the Max, I have a section on privacy and security where the recommendations include:
- If on a Windows PC, install appropriate security software, such as available from Symantec, McAfee, Zone Alarm, and Trend Micro.
- Always set Windows and Mac OS/X to do regular operating system updates. Microsoft always releases a monthly update on the second Tuesday of the month; if there are urgent updates required, they will deliver them when necessary.
- Avoid downloading email attachments from unknown senders.
- Never respond to an email requesting your account login information (this applies to any service of which you are a member, such as eBay, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.); that’s phishing
The Upgrade Process for this PC
In this case we updated Windows and set it up for automatic updates. Go to Control Panel | Windows Updates (last item) | Change Settings and set Important Updates to “Install updates automatically (recommended)”. Then you will find Windows doing an update with 48 hours of the second Tuesday of the month when Microsoft releases Windows updates – mostly to address security issues. This applies to Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
We also reinstalled her Norton 360. With over 25 years of PC security and PC maintenance experience, Norton 360 will not slow down a PC; they finally addressed this issue four or five years ago. Make sure you have registered it with My Norton so that you can recover the software key, if necessary, as was the case here. Norton 360 also has an auto-update process that keeps the PC free of these infections. It only performs its scanning and update operations when you have not used your PC for, say, 30 minutes or so and leave it unattended.
For several years I have adhered to these two basic guidelines not only on my own PC’s but also on several other users’ PC’s for whom I provide assistance. They have never had a malicious attack issue over the past several years.
When it comes to Mac PC’s, simply accept those Mac Software Updates notices that appear frequently and you should be ok.
As for Skype upgrades, while some may not always agree with user interface issues – especially with Skype for Mac, Skype’s Raul Liive explains why they are important in The Benefits of Upgrading Skype including:
- Better Performance such as faster load times and optimization for dynamic network conditions
- Improved Quality and Compatibility when it comes to audio and video call quality
- New Features such as screen sharing enhancements, including group screen sharing and, optionally, calling Facebook contacts
- Bug Fixes: with over 250 million active users, each with his/her own unique PC configuration, there are bound to be a few minor bugs. (Skype, however, appears to have the best software release quality control that I have experienced with respect to “bugs’. Full disclosure: I have been involved in software bug testing and quality control for over twenty years.)
Bottom line:those software update notices may appear to be annoying but when it comes to Windows, security software (such as Norton 360, McAfee or Zone Alarm) and Skype, performing those upgrades will ensure you have a malware-free PC experience. Even if you only use your PC for email, web browsing and Word documents, PC security software is a requisite. As several Internet security experts comment, the last line of defense is the user her-/himself and the ability to be sensitive to security issues.
Other Skype posts on performing upgrades:
- Tips for Upgrading Skype on Your Computer (Skype for Windows and Mac)
- Tips for Updating Skype on Your Smartphone
- Skype: Nearly half of adults don’t install software updates(go.theregister.com)