What’s with those app update installer icons on your computer? Do you really want them?

When we first download or update Chrome or Firefox browsers, Java, Skype, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player and other apps their installers usually go to the default Downloads folder or Desktop.

From there we open the disk image (.dmg or .iso file), launch the app from within its disk image (uh oh), sometimes place or pin its shortcut to our Mac Dock or Windows Task Bar and continue using the app (another uh oh) still located in the disk image. Whenever the app launches random icons reappear on the Desktop. "Is this supposed to happen?" Tech Friends ask. In a word, no.

Beyond the clutter of old installers bloating the Downloads folder and littering the Desktop, multiple outdated versions of applications on the computer can produce software conflicts, system crashes, corrupted files, and permanently lost data. Out of date app versions on the computer can also leave a back door ajar for malware infestations and hair-raising ransomware attacks.

If this is all you need to know, skip down to 5 things you can you do to protect yourself. For at bit more on this topic stick with me another minute.

Software developers issue updates in order to add features, fix bugs, and patch security holes in their applications — and thus your computer. Often security holes are discovered by hackers well before developers are aware of them. Still more time will pass while fixes are developed and tested, made available for download, and finally installed on users’ machines.

When developers issue an update the old version is ordinarily removed as part of the updating process. However, if the old version is in a disk image instead of its prescribed location (usually Mac Applications of Windows Programs folders) the removal step may fail or simply be skipped. Thus the old version and its vulnerabilities remain on your computer as an attack vector when its shortcut is clicked or your browser triggers an associated app or plug-in.

Example: an old version of Adobe Flash Player remains on a computer because that version is still compatible with outdated web browsers Firefox, Internet Explorer, AOL Browser, many games, and/or obsolete apps such as AOL Desktop, Thunderbird, Windows Media Player, even legacy vertical business applications. Meanwhile, the latest update of Flash Player is also present because it is required by a newer browser, game or app. Two different versions of Flash Player on the computer; the older is a security risk, the newer is secure. Depending on your operating system and installed applications this example may apply to outdated versions of Shockwave, Acrobat, Java 6 and 7, Skype and more.

Your Mac or PC operating system may become unstable and vulnerable to attack through an old app version even while a new secure version is also present.

5 things you can you do to protect yourself:

  1. Don't download anything from free software sites like download.com, en.softonic.com, brothersoft.com, and others. Only use genuine update sites of legitimate developers.
  2. Run only current versions of apps, especially those that require plug-ins like Adobe Flash Player and Java.
  3. Routinely empty your Downloads folder.
  4. Better still, set your Desktop as the default download location so detritus doesn’t have a place to hide and accumulate.
  5. Clean up your Desktop. When an update arrives, allow it to install fully, then trash its installer.

And, for good measure, empty the trash.