By Steve Hardwick, CISSP
I am always surprised how little it is understood that a good upgrade regimen can prevent a lot of disasters. Plus in a lot of instances, it can also expose some bad practices. By taking a few simple precautions, some of which you should already be doing, you can minimize the risks of operating system upgrade. The following steps will provide a good guide to safe operating system upgrade experience.
- Do I really need to upgrade?
In many cases the first version of a piece of software will be released with a variety of bugs. There is always a risk that after the OS had been upgraded the particular bug in the software will be the one that affects your configuration. Over time these will get fixed, so it may be worth waiting a while. Some good reasons for upgrading are;
- There are no more security patches available for my current OS
- There is an application that I need that is not supported by my current configuration
- There are significant performance improvements with the new OS
- If you can delay upgrading the OS then you are following an age old mantra “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”
- Will my current hardware support the new OS?
The first thought is that the OS will check to see if I have the necessary hardware. Most times not. So it is good idea to review the amount of processing power, RAM memory and disk space that the OS needs. Check other system components such as
- – Network card
- – Graphics card and Monitor
- – Printer/Scanner/camera
- – SCSI controllers
- Make sure all your current software is up to date
It is always a good idea to keep your software up to date. Not only does this reduce the probability of viruses, it also makes sure your software operates at its peak performance. Moving from one operating system to another may cause the way that the application is launched to behave differently.
- Make sure you have a back-up. There are two approaches to this.
First, backup all of the user data. If you are not already running a regular backup for your data this may be a great time to set one up. Even if you are running a regular backup for your data, chances are you have never tested it. This is a good time to test it. Move a few files from your hard drive onto a USB flash drive, or cloud storage. Delete the files and empty the trash. Try and retrieve the files from your backup copy. If this works, your backup is in good shape. If not, it is time to research your backup options. This is also a good time to make sure your backup application is supported by the new operating system.
Second, for the more advanced users, is a disk image backup. This will take a complete snapshot of the hard drive. This can be very useful if everything catastrophically fails during the upgrade process. Which, based on personal experience, can occasionally happen. Recovering from an image will replace the operating system, applications and user data. There are many applications out there that will do this, both commercial and open source. A quick search of “disk Imaging software” will give you a lot of options. A word of caution, if you are doing this for the first time, you may want to practice.
- Make sure the new operating system will support all of your critical applications
Perform an inventory of your current applications. Then a quick trip to the software vendor site should let you know if your application is supported. You may be surprised to find that either your application is not supported, you have to buy an upgrade or that you need a different version of the program. In my case I had to use the desktop version of Skype instead of the embedded windows applications. I made sure I loaded that before I upgraded.
- Review the installations options
Often there may be options available to you during the upgrade process. In some cases it is easier to set these during the installation process than going back and doing them all manually.
- Run a full anti-malware scan
Just to be safe, make sure that you have no malware on your system before you upgrade. Not only is this a good practice in any case, but there may be things in the malware that cause the upgrade to malfunction. Either the upgrade has an issue converting the application to run with the new OS, or the malware was designed to wreak havoc on the new OS. In any case it is better to start with as clean a system as you can before you upgrade.
- Review best practices for configuring the new operating system.
Another quick visit to the Internet will allow you to conduct some research on what you can do once you have loaded the new OS. This will include the following
- Configuring the new OS to run at its optimal performance. This may include new options that did not existing in the previous OS
- New features that can help improve usability.
- New short cut and menu capabilities
- Customizing the OS to your requirements
Finally after completing the previous 8 steps we are ready to download and perform the upgrade. Once the upgrade is complete there are still a few steps to get your system back into good working order.
9) In the case of Windows at least, run a full anti-malware scan
You may need to upgrade your anti-malware application, or at least the virus definitions, before performing this scan. You may ask “I just did this before I upgraded, why do I need to do this again?” A virus will attack software vulnerabilities. Since there is a new OS and probably new application code as well, there will be a whole new set of vulnerabilities that the software exposes. The anti-malware application will start looking for a new set of vulnerabilities that are aligned with the new software on the machine.
10) Check that your applications still work
Try out all of your most commonly used applications, especially opening and closing existing files. In some cases it may be worth verifying that the current version of the application is the one you should be using with that OS. In additional to testing things like documents, it is also a good idea to check multimedia files (picture, movies, music etc). In some cases the codecs need to decode the multimedia may have to be reloaded before the application can access them. Hopefully you did all of your homework in step 5 and you will have no difficulty tweaking any of your applications.
11) Make sure your backup application is working
Repeat step 4 with a couple of files to make sure you can recover them. It is also a good idea to make sure your backup schedule is still set the way you a want it. Also verify you have the latest version of the backup software that is compatible with your new OS.
12) Run a Software Update
Once you have everything back up and running then make sure the Software Update is set to run correctly. Plus, after you have verified the settings, kick off a manual update to make sure that you have your OS and applications at their current versions
13) Check the Hard Drive and hardware statistics
Do a quick health check on the hard drive, especially defragmentation check, to make sure that everything is ready to give you the best performance. This will make sure that there are no fragments left after the upgrade. It is also worthwhile monitoring the CPU and memory usage for a couple of days to make sure there are no issues that are consuming CPU time or eating up memory
With careful preparation, an operating system upgrade should not be a disaster. Plus it is also a good time to test a few things to make sure they are working well. In essence it almost a pseudo disaster recovery test by making sure you can recover your data should things go wrong. It is always better to go in eyes wide open after completing the pre-upgrade steps than having that terrible feeling when nothing works and all of your family photos are gone.