At 3:45pm on September 9, 1947, U.S. Navy officer Grace Murray Hopper noted in her logbook that she had found a moth between the relays of the Harvard Mark II computer she was working on.   This was the first of many “bugs” throughout history and is a term still used today to describe problems inside computers.

An example of a modern bug, which a lot of people will remember, is the “Millennium Bug”.   Before the year 2000, most computer programs stored a date as two digits, e.g.  96, 97, 98 etc.   So what happens when you reach 2000?   The computer stores this as 00 – but does this mean the year 0000 or the year 2000?   Millions of dollars was spent updating programs to store the date as four digits, and thankfully the year 2000 came and passed without too much incident.

So what does this have to do with computer security you may ask?   The difference today, is that hackers make use of these bugs to take control of your computer.

Bugs are often vulnerabilities which hackers take advantage of to get access to your computer.    Knowledge of these “vulnerabilities” can often be bought and sold for thousands of dollars because of the power it can give to those who know how to abuse it.   A hacked computer will often seem to run really slowly, because someone else is secretly using it without you realizing.   Or you’ll be inundated with pop-up windows telling you to call a support number which, if you do, will empty your wallet!

Now that most computers, tablets, phones (and even in some cases refrigerators) are interconnected via the Internet, we have to take extra precautions to make sure they’re safe from hackers.    If your computer has a vulnerability which opens it up to attack, someone malicious can potentially take control of it to either search it for personal details (banking/photos/etc) or use it for their own financial gain.

This is why it’s important to keep your computer up to date – which effectively removes the bugs.

You’ve probably also heard about a Firewall.   This sits between your computer and the Internet to defend you from attacks.   It listens to everything trying to talk to your computer and if it doesn’t like what’s happening, it’ll block it.   But of course, Firewalls can also have bugs, so also need to be kept updated!

Used in combination with a Firewall is “Anti-Virus”.   Anti-Virus looks at what’s running on your computer.   If it spots a virus which has managed to get past the firewall, it’ll also attempt to block it.   To do this it looks for viruses which it recognizes using what are called “signatures”.   A signature describes a “pattern” which identifies the virus, and new signatures are being released daily.   Hence why it’s important to keep Anti-Virus updated also.

You see the trend here – “updating”!   If you keep everything up to date, then you stand a better chance of protecting your computer.

If you’re still using Windows XP or Windows Vista, you’ve probably noticed a message stating that Microsoft will no longer be providing updates.   Over time this is going to open your computer up to viruses and exploits.   Good Anti-Virus and Firewall protection will help, but you’re still not going to be 100% secure.

So it may be time to look at replacing the old computer with something new and, you got it – up-to-date.

A lot of people come to me asking what to buy when looking for a new computer, and my advice often surprises them!   A Tablet Computer!

Think about what you use a computer for?  Facebook?  Surfing the web?  Email? Skype?    A tablet computer such as an iPad is perfect for all of these.  What’s better is that an iPad,  automagically ™  keeps itself updated and isn’t vulnerable to viruses.   It just works.   The battery lasts for days, and it’s so simple to use – you’ll pick it up in no time.  Also, unlike a desktop computer, it’s wireless so you can use it anywhere around the house (assuming you have a wireless router – but that’s a different article).    You can’t beat sitting out on the deck, enjoying the sun while catching up with friends online. There are other tablets out there as well as the iPad, but this is my personal favorite as it’s the most secure and easiest to use.

Now, if you still need to write documents, work on spreadsheets etc then a tablet may not be for you.   Tablets are great for “consuming” information (reading web pages, email etc), but not so great at “creating” information.   If this is the case you should maybe look at a new laptop.   Why a laptop instead of a desktop computer?   Well essentially they’re the same – they’ll have the same components in them, except a laptop can be taken and used anywhere so is much more flexible.

Chances are, if you buy a new computer now, it’ll come with Windows 10.   If you’re upgrading from XP or Vista, it’s going to look very different, but stick with it and you know you’ll be up-to-date and secure.    If you really don’t like the new look, or sometimes you have an old program you still need to use that doesn’t work on Windows 10, then you may still be able to get a computer with Windows 7.   These typically aren’t available in stores but can be ordered online.

I hope this gives you an insight into why computers update and why that’s a good thing.      If you have any questions or would like advice on removing a virus, upgrading your computer etc, then please get in touch.   Until next time – keep updating!