"Microsoft says hackers seek to attack PowerPoint users ," screams the headline from Reuters. Good news: Microsoft has already published a security update you can download and install. It plugs 14 holes in PowerPoint that could possibly allow remote control of a compromised PC. As far as anyone knows, only one of those 14 holes has been attacked, but the other 13 were potential problems.

The problem affects many versions of PowerPoint. Microsoft’s bulletin lists them:

This security update is rated Critical for supported editions of Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2000. For supported editions of Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, and Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac; Open XML File Format Converter for Mac; all supported versions of PowerPoint Viewer, and Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats; Microsoft Works 8.5; and Microsoft Works 9.0, this security update is rated Important.

How do you, the average PC user, protect yourself? It’s easy. Matt Watchinski, senior director of vulnerability research at security software company SourceFire , gave me step-by-step instructions:

1. Launch Internet Explorer on your PC. It doesn’t matter what version.
2. Go to update.microsoft.com . It should pop open another window that says "Download and install updates for your computer."
3. In that window, click "View available updates."

4. The window will change to show a list of possible updates. Look for a header that says "Office 2007" or whatever version you have.

5. If you see an update labeled "Security Update for Microsoft PowerPoint 2007," or whichever version you have, that’s the fix you need to install. Make sure the box next to it is checked, then click Install in the lower right corner of the window. Follow instructions from there to install the update.
6. If you have Office installed but didn’t see a Security Update for PowerPoint, your PC has already automatically installed the fix. You’re safe.

In the future, I hope Microsoft includes this sort of basic how-to instruction with this kind of critical update. It would make many people’s jobs and lives easier, including mine.

Photo by Niall Kennedy

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