A note of caution for the holiday season

Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones unwrapping a snazzy new PC or laptop under the Christmas tree next week. If so, here’s a note of caution.

Many PCs sold on the high street come with software which was produced many months before, so their security patches can be out of date. What are the chances, for instance, that the PC you bought from a chain store this week has the emergency Internet Explorer patch that Microsoft released on Wednesday?

Similarly anti-virus software, often bundled with a home computer, is unlikely to provide out-of-the-box protection for recent viruses. With tens of thousands of new malicious samples being seen by our labs every single day, protection that is just a couple of months old could seriously compromise computer security.

There’s an assumption that a computer straight off the shelf will be ready to go, but the reality is that you will often be spending much of Christmas afternoon downloading many megabytes of security patches for your brand-new PC.

And don’t forget – it’s not just about operating system patches. There have been important patches released recently for the likes of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Adobe Reader and other software recently.

The first job after unwrapping a computer – whether it runs Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, should be to make sure that the system is properly protected – applying appropriate patches, installing a personal firewall and updating anti-virus software.

After all, a computer virus would be a very unwelcome Christmas present.