This article is dedicated to my friend Sandy who works at Sweet Basil Café who generously gave me the idea for this article as well as making the best turkey burger ever. Sandy wondered how she could tell when a computer “update” was legitimate or not.
I’m asked that question often so I’ve had the idea for this kind of article for a while but, short of a Vulcan Mind Meld, I wasn’t sure how to convey such nebulous knowledge to my readers. The truth is that telling the difference between the real and fake updates is not easy. Most computer-savvy people can pretty easily tell when an update is legitimate. You learn when to expect them and, more importantly, when NOT to expect them. But the scumbags that want to take advantage of you non-geeks know how to fool you. So, for what it’s worth, here are some general tips to help you discern the difference.
There are three to four regular update notifications that most users will receive periodically. These updates include Windows Updates from Microsoft, updates from Adobe Systems for your Flash player and Acrobat reader, and updates to your Java software from Sun Microsystems. The updates from Sun and Microsoft will always come to you in the form of a pop-up balloon that appears in the lower right hand corner of your screen where the time is displayed (this area is called the “system tray”). The updates from Adobe System will appear as a large red and white “poster.” You really do need to perform these updates when prompted. They often patch security holes on your computer that maleficent individuals exploit in order to take advantage of you.
The “Do’s”: Do, in general, do allow updates that appear regularly from the system tray. However, be aware that the greasy miscreants have learned how to mimic the appearance of those updates in order to trick you. You can usually tell the real from the fake about as easily as you can tell a real Rolex from one of the cheap knockoffs. The words may be in poor English, the graphics won’t look quite right or they will use alarming verbiage designed to scare you into clicking on it. Whatever the case, once you allow the “real” updates to take place a couple of times, you generally get a feel for what’s legitimate and what’s not. If you are unsure, you can always visit the company’s website and search for their updates manually.
The “Don’ts”: Don’t ever, EVER, click “OK” to install an update that came to you via email. Legitimate updates will never come to you that way. Don’t ever, EVER click “OK” for a “flash Player” update while viewing videos on er, umm, “less-than-legitimate” websites. Seriously guys; computer nerds know how to navigate the mine field of some of those websites. If you are not a geek you are going to have to resist temptation or make a contribution to a geek’s bank account so that we can rescue you.