Next time you’re tempted to hold off on installing software updates, remember why these updates are necessary in the first place.
Technology enables us to do wonderful things. The PCs and mobile devices at the center of our digital world are an indispensable part of our personal and working lives. They offer us a gateway to social media, online banking, media streaming, instant messaging, fitness tracking and much else besides. Depending on your circumstances they may also be an essential tool for work. But they’re also permeated by software that needs to be updated if you want a secure and optimized experience.
The more software you have on these devices, the more likely it is that your use of them will be interrupted at some point by an update notification. But next time you’re thinking about hitting “decline” or “postpone”, remember why updates are necessary in the first place.
As the need to keep your software up to date is also one of the core messages of this year’s edition of Cyber Security Awareness Month, this is a timely opportunity to look a little more closely at why software updates matter.
Why bother updating?
Software runs the world. There was an estimated 230 billion app downloads in 2021 alone, up by over 63% since 2016. And it’s claimed the average smartphone user has 40 separate apps installed. That’s not to mention the other devices you may be using: PCs and laptops, as well as fitness trackers and other smart technology.
All of these applications need updating, as does the underlying operating system (OS), web browser and possibly firmware – a special type of software that hooks into device hardware. Multiply this across multiple machines and devices and those annoying update pop-ups could amount to a major productivity headache. But updates are essential for several reasons:
- Updates keep you more secure
Software is written by humans. That means the underlying code is prone to human error. Sometimes these errors – known as software vulnerabilities – can be exploited by malicious hackers, who can then take advantage of these security flaws.
Learn more about secure coding here.
Such attacks can start with attempts to get people to click a malicious link, open an attachment in a message or lure them to specially crafted malicious websites. The end result can be remote code execution on vulnerable systems or malware downloaded to the device, which is designed to steal login information and any personal and financial data stored in the apps or on the device/PC.
That means threats such as:
- Identity theft and fraud
- Hijacking of sensitive apps and accounts like online banking accounts
- Ransomware designed to extort you by encrypting the files on your machine until you pay
- Cryptojacking, where a hacker uses your computer to illegally mine for cryptocurrency, increasing your energy bills and running down your equipment
- Botnet malware that hijacks your machine and uses it to attack others
Updates fix these vulnerability problems by upgrading your operating system and other software to the latest version, which “patches” the security issue in question.
- Updates will keep your friends and family safe
It goes without saying that any shared computers at home that aren’t updated could expose not just your accounts and personal and financial information to attackers, but also those of your family members or housemates. Hackers may also hijack your email, messaging and social media accounts to send hidden malware to your contacts.
So, by keeping your devices and software on the most secure version, you’ll be doing your friends and family a favor, too.
- Updates will ensure you have the best performing device
Software updates don’t just keep your device secure. They are also issued to fix any performance issues the developers may have identified. So updating could help enhance your battery life, stop apps and other programs from crashing due to glitches, improve the speed at which pages load, and add a range of other functionality designed to make the user experience better.
In other words, you deserve the best, don’t you?
- Updates give you the latest functionality for free
Software developers also use updates to enable new features for their users. Consider an iOS update – the latest of them had a huge range of new capabilities, from message editing and customizable lock screens to Apple Pay enhancements and even a Safety Check feature to help people in abusive relationships.
Again, who wouldn’t want to be on the latest and greatest version of their software?
- Updates will head off trouble with your employer
Many companies insist that their remote working employees use only corporate-owned devices, which will have their own update mechanisms. But some may allow staff to use their personal devices to connect to corporate networks and access business apps in the cloud. However, if these devices are compromised because you failed to update key software, there could be trouble.
An attacker could steal your corporate logins to access sensitive company data and systems. Or they could use the same access to infect the corporate network with malware. This could lead to a serious data breach or ransomware attack. The average cost of data breaches today stands at nearly US$4.4m per incident.
Other things to consider
To make matters easier, most devices and PCs today have automatic updates turned on by default. If for some reason yours doesn’t, a quick web search will show you how. Also consider:
- Backing up regularly, in case an update breaks your machine/device and you lose any data
- Taking care where to download software from in the first place: only use approved app stores
- Adding extra security to your environment with security software for PCs and other devices, from a reputable provider
Ultimately, updates are about getting the safest, freshest, most feature-rich experience possible. That’s something every technology user should be on board with.
by Phil Muncaster, ESET