Microsoft releases most security updates on the second Tuesday of each month, known in the information technology industry as Patch Tuesday. Bundling patches together into one monthly update makes it easier for large companies with many computers to update all their PCs at the same time and deal with any problems that may arise. New malware often appears shortly after, giving a possible month before Microsoft releases the next set of updates and taking advantage of the fact that some users don't keep their computers up-to-date and won't have the latest patches. Microsoft sometimes releases critical updates that patch serious vulnerabilities outside of the normal patch cycle.
Security threats such as malicious software, viruses and Trojans are commonplace on the Internet, with many specifically targeting home users who may have less knowledge about how to protect their computers. To help you stay safe from these threats, Microsoft publishes monthly security updates, designed to fix any vulnerabilities found in the Windows operating system and other Microsoft software.
Security updates are small software packages that replace any files in the operating system found to contain vulnerabilities to close the security holes and stop exploitation by malware, viruses or hackers. Vulnerabilities typically allow third parties to gain access to files to which they don't have adequate permissions, install malicious software or to crash the computer. Some vulnerabilities are found before they're actively exploited, often by security researchers and interested individuals, and Microsoft release updates to patch these before any damage is done. Malicious software authors find other vulnerabilities first and create software to exploit them before Microsoft release an update in response to fix the problem.
Windows Update Service
The Windows Update service allows Microsoft to send out security updates over the Internet to patch security holes and fix errors. You can manually check for updates at any time using the Windows Control Panel, or you can configure the update service to automatically download and install updates in the background. This ensures that your computer is up-to-date with all of the latest security updates and reduces the chance of it falling prey to malicious software. Once the update service has installed the latest updates, you may need to restart your computer for the updates to take effect. Using the Control Panel, you can specify a time for the update service to run, so the update and restart process can occur when you aren't using the computer.
Microsoft also release service packs for operating systems and applications, which contain a collection of security and other updates bundled together. Downloading and installing a number of updates in one pack is often faster and less prone to errors than installing each update individually and allows computers with a clean install of Windows to be quickly brought up to date with the latest patches. Some service packs may introduce new security features, such as the addition of the Windows firewall into Windows XP by Windows XP Service Pack 2.
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