We recently noticed that our versions of Adobe Reader, Shockwave Player, Sun Java and Real Player are way out of date. These are all free programs that help us read PDFs and play videos and music. Being out of date can mean that hackers can exploit your computer and steal information.

This is because the software for hacking into old applications has likely already been written. Updates usually fix the vulnerable holes that were exploited by said software, and force the hackers to start all over again writing new hacks. So it goes: the old missile, anti-missile struggle.

We found what needed updating by installing a free tool from Qualys. If you go to and install their “plug-in,” it will notice which browser you are using — Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer, for example — and then run a check of the tools that work with that browser. We were up to date on several fronts: We had the latest version of Chrome, Windows Media Player and Microsoft Silverlight, but we had other things to fix. There was a big “Fix it” button next to each of those problems, which took us to a company website where we could download the free update.

NOTE: Many readers over the years have expressed suspicion about free programs and essentially asked “What’s the catch?”  (This reminds Bob of an old joke about Hollywood talent agents, but we digress.) Usually there is no catch. The hope is that later the maker can sell you updates or enhancements to the free program. You can buy or not, or course, as you choose. On occasion, a program is distributed for free simply because they can’t sell it, and the company or the programmer wants to get their name known in the marketplace.

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