Over this Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, you will most likely be traveling to visit relatives.  And if you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely visiting someone who is less technical than you.

So after the Turkey and Pumpkin Pie, when everyone is sitting down to the football game, simply ask your host: “Where is your computer?  I have a Thanksgiving gift for you.” 

If you are the host, take 10 minutes away from the dishes and give yourself a gift.

The gift of course is the “Three Updates of Thanksgiving”.

  1. Update Anti-Virus.  Simply run the anti-virus definition update.
  2. Update Patches.  Run Windows Update.
  3. Update the Browser.  Amazing how many people are still running IE7! 

1. Update Anti-Virus

Regardless if you’re using a Mac or PC, you should run an anti-virus program, because they don’t just protect you against viruses, but against other malware as well.

I had a relative call me in a panic a month ago saying their Windows XP computer was randomly rebooting on them.  Turns out, their anti-virus subscription (and thus the definitions) had expired on them a couple months previous and when their children opened Flash-based games the fun really started.

A friend called me about a message they were getting on their Mac from a “Virus Scan” application saying that it was infected, asked for the administrator password (which the child provided) to install the anti-virus program and then started wreaking all sorts of havoc.  A trip to the local computer store fixed the problem, but the point is that malware is out there regardless of the platform.

Another friend called because their screen wouldn’t go off the “Starting” screen.  Turned out they wanted to download some Halloween pictures and their anti-virus wasn’t letting them get to the page, so they turned off the anti-virus.  I had them take it to their local computer repair place.  A couple hundred dollars later, they are hoping the rebuilt machine still has all their family pictures that were stored on it.

And remember: if the computer doesn’t have anti-virus, or it has expired, you can often get a “free” copy from their ISP (both Comcast and Verizon offer Anti-Virus programs to their subscribers) or use the "free” Microsoft Security Essentials from the Microsoft website.

2. Update Patches

Running Windows Update is a quick way to make sure the computer is protected and is something you can launch and walk away while it does its work.  But patching the computer doesn’t stop at Windows Update.

You should also look for updates from manufacturers.  In my opinion the two most important manufacturer patch updates to pay attention to are: Adobe (for both Flash and Acrobat) and Sun (for Java).  Over the last couple years, malware writers have turned increasingly to applications for developing exploits.  Updating the applications on the machine is an important safeguard.

If the link to Windows Update has disappeared from the machine, you can always get there at http://www.windowsupdate.com

3. Update the Browser

Truth be told, this post was inspired by a tweet from Estelle Weyl (@estellevw) who tweeted “For those of you visiting relatives for Thanksgiving, can you do all us web developers a favor? Please update their browsers. Thanks!”  It was retweeted by someone I follow… and… well… inspired this blog post and here we are.

I am amazed by the number of people still running IE7 and shocked at the number of companies who have standardized on IE6 (all in the name of validation – but that is a topic for another day).

Updating the Internet Explorer browser will probably already be accomplished with a Windows Update – making sure to select IE9 to be installed (some people will turn it off).

If you happen to run other browsers, running updates for those as well is critical.  There are always vulnerabilities for systems that malware authors are looking to exploit, regardless of who wrote the code.  So – check to make sure their favorite browser is up to date – which can usually be done from the Tools menu of the other major browsers.

So there you have it: the “Three Updates of Thanksgiving”.  If each technically astute person reading this were to take the (at most) 30 minutes it takes to do this (while digesting your pumpkin pie), the computing world will be a much safer place for all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving!