Navigating the maze of Microsoft patches

Dennis o'reilly By Dennis O’Reilly

The numbering system Microsoft uses to identify its various Windows updates and the security bulletins referencing them often leaves us scratching our heads.

Just determining whether your PC has all the patches it needs can be like deciphering a secret code.

In describing last week’s out-of-cycle Windows patches, Susan Bradley’s July 30 Top Story linked to Microsoft security bulletins MS09-034 and MS09-035. Unfortunately, this information left Jim Long perplexed:
  • “I just read ‘Install MS’s out-of-cycle patches for IE, apps’ by Susan Bradley in Issue 208, 2009-07-30. It was clearly written, and I understand the need for the patches.

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    “Maybe I’m uneducated or alone in this, but I cannot seem to get the hang of this patching stuff. I went to the security bulletin as recommended, but it doesn’t seem to contain the information needed to download the recommended patches. Then I ran Windows Update, as recommended by the security bulletin. It found no unapplied, high-importance patches.

    “So then I went to Control Panel, with ‘Show updates’ turned on. For some reason, it shows patches according to Knowledge Base article number. I have no idea what the Knowledge Base numbers are for MS09-034 or MS09-035. As a result, I have no idea whether the patch suggested is on my system or not.”
Windows Secrets columns place the patch number corresponding to a security bulletin in text directly above each section’s headline. For example, in Susan’s July 30 Top Story, security bulletin MS09-034 corresponds to patch number 972260 and was shown at the top of the discussion like this:

MS09-034 (972260)
Apply this Internet Explorer patch today

Microsoft security bulletins include links to the patch download pages in the “Affected Software” section at the top of each bulletin. Finding the correct update that applies to your particular system, however, can be a challenge. A different patch is listed for every version of the operating system and every affected application.

The simplest way to download patches is to visit the Microsoft Update site and install the needed files using the Custom option. To verify in Microsoft Update whether a particular patch has been installed, click Review your update history in XP or View update history in Vista.

Another option is to open the Add or Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel of XP. (In Vista, the applet is called Programs and Features.) Make sure Show updates is checked in XP, or click View installed updates in Vista. Look for the updates by installation date and/or their patch number.

We’ll be providing much more detail on managing the software-update process in a Windows Secrets Newsletter coming soon to an inbox near you.

Reader Jim Long will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending a comment we printed. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

The Known Issues column brings you readers’ comments on our recent articles. Dennis O’Reilly is technical editor of
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2009-08-06: