What are Windows security updates and how do they keep your PC safe?

Major cyber attacks in recent years highlight the importance of keeping your operating system up to date. Discover how security updates work and how to check for updates on Windows 7, 8.1 and 10.

The 2017 global ransomware attack involving 150 countries around the world highlighted the importance of keeping Windows up to date.

Dubbed WannaCry, the ransomware exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, affecting versions from Windows XP up to Windows 7. Microsoft was aware of the issue and released a security update soon after to protect users. Customers who didn’t update their machines were vulnerable to attack, and many corporate customers fell victim.

[Read more: How to protect your computer from viruses and malware for free]

The incident has highlighted the importance of keeping your software up to date by installing security updates..

What is a security update and why do I need to update my machine?

When Microsoft releases an operating system like Windows 10 its job isn’t finished.  In today’s world, cyber attacks are increasingly common and perpetrated using sophisticated and ever-changing code. Microsoft has security teams dedicated to keeping its home and business customers safe from malicious attacks.

Microsoft releases regular software updates via Windows Update. These updates perform a number of functions, they can add new features and design changes, but they can provide security fixes

On the second Tuesday of each month (nicknamed Patch Tuesday) Microsoft usually releases a security update to protect customers against the most recent threats.

If you don’t update your machine, then it could be vulnerable to future cyber attacks.

Microsoft gives you the option to install updates automatically, which means you don’t have to worry about searching for them online and installing them manually.

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What versions of Windows get security updates?

Microsoft provides concurrent mainstream support and extended support periods for its operating systems after their release.

During the five-year mainstream support period the OS will get regular updates including security improvements and design features. Once this is over the operating system heads into the extended support period, which means it doesn’t get new features, but will get security updates and fixes.

[Read more: What's the difference between Windows mainstream and extended support?]

Currently, Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 get mainstream support and Windows 7 is in the extended support period. Windows Vista and Windows XP don’t get either, although in an unprecedented move, Microsoft released a security patch for older versions of Windows.

[Read more: When does Windows 7 support end?]

How do I check for updates Windows 10?

In Windows 10, automatic updates are turned on by default, this means your PC should update automatically over the internet and you don’t have to do anything.

To check your computer is running the most recent version go to Settings – Update & Security – Windows Update and click Check for updates.

In Windows 10 Home Edition you can’t turn off automatic updates, you can only choose a time for your computer to restart after updates have been installed. Find this under Settings – Update & Security – Windows Update. Click Advanced Options and select Notify to schedule restart from the drop-down menu.

How do I check for updates in Windows 8.1?

Go to the Settings Change PC settings.

Click Update and recovery, look for Windows Update and tap Check now.

Install any important updates.

How do I turn on automatic updates in Windows 8.1

Remain within Windows Update, click Choose how updates get installed.

Under Important updates choose Install updates automatically (recommended).

The option ‘Download updates but let me choose when to install them’ gives you a bit of flexibility about when to install them.

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How do I check for updates in Windows 7?

Click Start and in the search box type Windows Update and select it when it appears.

Click Check for updates and wait.

Windows Update will display a message if any updates are available, including important updates.

Click the message, select the updates and click ‘OK’ and ‘Install Updates.’

How do I turn on automatic updates in Windows 7

Remain within the Windows Update screen and click Advanced options.

In the drop-down menu next to Choose how updates are installed select ‘Automatic (recommended).

How can I keep my computer safe?

Windows 10 machines include the new Windows Defender Security Center, which includes built-in protection against virus and threats. Find out more.

For fully comprehensive cover, BT Broadband customers can download BT Virus Protect which also protects against phishing, over 611 million malware threats and more. 

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