Keep an Eye on Window’s Security Icons

Desktop ComputerHere’s an excellent article from SANS, the computer security gurus of this world.  I think it’s great advice and information for everyone.

Keep an Eye on Window’s Security Icons. The icons in the Notification area (located on the Taskbar usually near the lower right corner of your desktop) provide important information about the security of your computer. Pay particular attention to the icons for Windows Update, Windows Security Center, and your security software.

Heads-up! If you see only a few icons or none at all, odds are they’ve been hidden. Unhide them:

– – Windows Update. A yellow shield with a black exclamation point in the middle near the lower right corner of your desktop in the Notification area. This icon comes and goes. It appears when Windows Update is busy downloading or installing critical security updates intended to patch security holes and help keep your computer safe. When you touch the icon with your cursor, a bubble message tells you what Auto-Update is doing. It may be busy downloading updates. Avoid logging off or shutting down your system until the download and installation are complete. If it has finished downloading updates, it may be waiting for the nod from you to install them. Click on the icon and tell it to go ahead. Or your computer may need to be restarted in order to complete the installation. The sooner you restart your system, the sooner the updates will take effect.

Heads-up! The Auto-Update icon won’t appear if Automatic Updating is
turned off. Make sure Auto-Update is turned on and has the recommended settings:

If it’s been some time since updates have been applied to your computer, Automatic Updates will do its best to get your system caught up, and you’ll be seeing a lot of that yellow shield icon for a while. Keep touching it with your cursor whenever it appears, and when prompted, do your part to keep the update process going. Also, if you cannot get Auto-Update to turn on or think something has gone wrong, call the help line provided by the maker of your computer, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or a computer consultant.

Heads-up! Sometimes when you select Shut Down, your computer will ask you if you want to “Install updates and shut down”, or will just tell
you it’s going to install updates. It’s very important that you let your computer go ahead with installing updates. Do not shut it off manually.
Updating could take an hour or more. It pays to be patient. Also, Microsoft will NEVER send you an email telling you to click on a link to get software updates. If you get such an email, it’s bogus.

– – Windows Security Center. A red shield with a white X in the middle near the lower right corner of your desktop in the Notification area. This icon comes and goes. (You may also see a balloon message.) Whenever the icon appears, that’s your queue to find out what’s gone wrong. Click on the icon or the balloon to open the Security Center, which tells you the status of the (software) firewall, Automatic Updates, and your Virus Protection. When all is well, you will see three green bands. A yellow band means that an adjustment is needed; follow the onscreen instructions. If you see a red band, an essential security system is not working. Avoid using your computer until it is working. Your best course of action is to call the help line provided by the maker of your computer, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or a computer consultant.

Heads-up! A common cause of Windows Security Center alerts is that your security software is not working or is out-of-date. Read the explanation for the alert, and then click on “Recommendations.” Chances are it is time to renew your subscription. If your subscription is not current, your computer will be vulnerable to malware (viruses and worms). Do not wait for it to expire.

– – Your Security Software. This icon should appear on the Taskbar at all times. Every brand of security software has its own icon or icons, many of which are round or shaped like a shield. Identify the icon for your security software by touching the unfamiliar icons at right end of the Taskbar, near the lower right corner of your desktop in the Notifications area. A small pop-up or balloon will tell what you have. Common security software brands include Symantec, Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, Sophos, Panda and BitDefender. Security software icons often signal an alert by changing color, flashing, or popping up a message. Pay attention to any change in the icon’s appearance. It may be good news-that your security software has been updated successfully or has blocked a threat to your system-or that it’s time to get out your credit card and renew your subscription.

Heads-up! If you can’t find an icon for security software, your system may not be protected against malware (viruses and worms). Play it safe by not using your computer until you are sure that your security software is working and up-to-date. Also, while many PC’s come with security software pre-installed, these are often limited-time trial versions that expire after 30-90 days. Security trialware generally lets you know in no uncertain terms that it is expiring, so send money!

* Quick Checklist
– – Make security icons visible on the Taskbar. Keep an eye on them.
– – Enable Automatic Updates. When prompted, do your part to get them
installed and working.
– – Use good-quality security software, keep it updated, and do not let it expire.

Copyright 2009, SANS Institute (
Editorial Board: Bill Wyman, Walt Scrivens, Barbara Rietveld, Alan Paller.
Download the formatted version of the OUCH! at Permission is hereby granted for any person to redistribute this in whole or in part to any other persons as long as the distribution is not being made as part of any commercial service or as part of a promotion or marketing effort for any commercial service or product. We request that redistributions include attribution for the source of the material.

Remember, home computing is a blast…keep it productive and enjoyable.

Best regards,



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