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What Are Windows Updates and Patches and Why Are They So Important to My IT and Network Operations?

Most of us have been aware of the little pop up box on the task bar of our PC, which states rather bluntly, that there are “Updates Available” for our computer. Some will click on Approve/Install, while others will simply ignore the pop-up indefinitely. But, make no mistake; there is a good reason why your computer tells you that there are updates available.

Windows Update is a service provided by Microsoft that provides updates for all the existing Microsoft Windows Operating Systems currently being supported (an older OS may not have active patches being created for it).

On top of the Windows Update there is also a service known as Microsoft Update, which is a wholly expanded version of the Windows Update service providing updates and patches not just for the operating system and Internet Explorer, but also for other Microsoft software running under Windows including program suites such as Microsoft Office, Windows Live, and Microsoft Expression Studio.

Collectively the management of these various update patches is known as Patch Management. These updates are important as there are always improvements to the software’s base reliability, performance and security that need to be addressed. The different updates include Security updates which specifically address software security vulnerabilities only. Also, there are critical updates which are designed to protect against vulnerabilities to malware, security exploits and errors which could compromise the stability of the OS or Windows program.

These Security and Critical updates are routinely provided on the second Tuesday of each month, known within the industry as “Patch Tuesday.” What is important to note is that as these patches are provided there are always chances that application of the patch itself can cause instability in the system. I have personally witnessed numerous occasions when applying a new “.net” patch or “XP Professional” patch causes the computer system or server to lockup requiring a rollback to the previous un-patched version.

Because of this, it is very important that your IT company or in-house IT specialist is aware of the stability of the patches before applying them and that they apply best practices when installing new patches to the OS or Software, as downtime costs your business time and money. Typically this would require establishing a pre-installation restore point, evaluating IT reviews of the patch or known compatibility issues. It is also wise to wait a 2-3 weeks (at least in my experience) before applying the patch. This way any critical issues will often be made known either through Microsoft or other IT publications.

Many people and small businesses can get into the frame of mind that “if a patch can cause a system to fail, then why apply any patches at all?” Though this does seem a logical response, it is important to remember that the software (when originally released) was designed to operate with the functionality of existing peripherals and features – which can grow and change over time. And from a security standpoint, the software or OS was designed to combat the currently existing threat levels and modalities for compromising systems. Over time the tactics used by hackers and their ilk work to beat the existing system security levels, requiring users to update and improve their security. Failing to consistently update can therefore create major security issues and network vulnerabilities that will only compound over time.

Source by I S McCain

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