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Safe Computing

Operating System and Software Updates

What are Updates?
Every computing device uses software called an Operating System (OS) to manage basic tasks such as storing and retrieving data, interfacing with other programs and hardware, and more. As systems are used and new technologies are released, the OS requires software upgrades or patches to resolve any security issues that are discovered and to improve functionality.

The most commonly used computer operating systems today are Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh OS 10. Both have different versions of the OS (for example: 10, 8, and 7 for Windows and 10.14 or "Mojave" and 10.13 or "High Sierra" for Macintosh) so you may find that some updates only affect specific versions. The What OS Does My Computer Use? page has instructions on finding your OS and version.

Smartphones and tablets have operating systems and versions as well. The most common are iOS (on iPhones and iPads), Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. As with computers, phones and tablets may be restricted by what OS and version they can run by the hardware platform and manufacturer.

Software programs such as Word, Excel, Adobe Reader and Acrobat, Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Symantec can also require updates and patches from time to time. Phone and tablet apps release updates as well; check your app store or information within the app to see what the update will do. Since the OS or software program has to contact its parent company, your computer must be online to get new information about updates.

Updating Your Operating System
Computers: both Windows and the Mac OS are typically set to look for updates automatically, but it is important to regularly check the computers you use to make sure this function is running properly since viruses and other malicious programs can attempt to block updates. CUIT on the Morningside campus provides basic instructions and information on running updates. Please keep in mind that using updates require an Administrative log on to the computer, so you may not have access to run them on a department system that is managed by CUMC IT or other IT staff.

Smartphones and Tablets: updates are usually released and/or restricted by the hardware manufacturer. Not all models may be able to run the most recent version of a mobile operating system, since the software that manages different hardware components - "drivers" - may not be compatible with a new version. To check your device look for an "About" setting or option that allows you to see what specific version it is running and whether an upgrade can be installed. Otherwise see your instruction manual, or visit the website for your specific device or cellular carrier.

Updating software programs
To update a specific program, there is typically a "Check for Updates" option under its About or Help menu, or you can visit the company's web site for patches and new versions. You may also be prompted by the software when it opens or closes if an automatic update feature is enabled.

CUMC IT and Department Managed Computers
Computers that are managed by CUMC IT receive operating system (OS) updates automatically. If you have a unique user name and password for a computer that is owned by your department, you will most likely not have access to install updates and patches. Your logon does not give sufficient access to the computer to modify parts of the OS as required for updates - this is a protective measure since viruses, spyware and unauthorized programs often try to change parts of the OS as well.

Am I Logged in with Administrative Rights?
Windows and Macintosh systems will prompt for an administrative password before installing a program or changing advanced settings on a computer. If you are prompted for an administrative password but did not intend to install or change computer settings, do not enter one!
If needed see instructions on how to check your login rights on a computer.

More about updates and patches:

  • Microsoft updates are categorized by the severity of any security risk they patch, if they are released for this purpose. It is very important that updates marked critical be installed as soon as possible to protect your computer and data from malicious people or programs. Even if you are running other security programs such as antivirus, antispyware and firewalls, an exploit related to a critical upgrade could cause problems on your computer. Details regarding individual Microsoft updates can be found at:
  • Microsoft releases most of its updates and patches on the second Tuesday of every month. If your Windows Update feature is turned on you should receive these automatically.
  • Microsoft Service Packs are large bundles of upgrades and patches. Since they must make a number of changes to the operating system, it is highly recommended that you back up your data before installing a Service Pack.
  • Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader are being targeted more and more for security attacks, due in part to the complexity of the software and that the PDF format that it uses has become very common. It is very important to install any security updates for these programs, and also recommended to disable JavaScript from automatically running when a file is opened:
    1. Launch Acrobat or Adobe Reader.
    2. Select Edit - Preferences from the program's upper left menu.
    3. Select the JavaScript Category from the list on the left.
    4. Uncheck the 'Enable Acrobat JavaScript' option.
    5. Select OK and close the program.
  • CUMC IT posts information about important updates and security issues for all operating systems and commonly used programs in the News and Announcements column on our home page.
  • OS and software updates may not actually be required to continue running the computer or program, and some may add features that don't necessarily care about. If you do not have the time to find out why the update was released, it is recommended that you install it anyway in case it fixes a security issue.

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Last updated 12/06/2018