Why those Annoying Software Updates are Critical to Ensuring Your Online Security
Perhaps one of the most annoying aspects of using digital devices is the constant requirement to update software. If your desktop or laptop computer runs a Microsoft Windows operating system, OSX or Linux, you’ll often encounter messages prompting you to upgrade your software.
Postponing those pesky updates
Upgrade prompts aren’t just limited to personal computers of course. They’ve become a regular part of smartphones usage as well. As software updates often take a lot of time, users tend to postpone them as frequently possible, to the point that some operating system providers eventually force the update upon their users (ex: Microsoft). The unfortunate reality is that while most users prefer to postpone, the software updates are actually vital to ensuring online user security. The inverse can be said as well – using a device that’s running on an old software version, exposes you to a potential security threat.
Falling victim to a software vulnerability
Software updates (excluding mobile apps) generally include fixes for security issues known as vulnerabilities. The potential outcome of exploiting a vulnerability may lead to a massive data breach. For example, some vulnerabilities enable cyber criminals to stealthily install malware on a victim’s device, thereby accessing their personal data unbeknownst to the user.
These vulnerabilities have a certain lifecycle which criminals tend to exploit. Generally speaking, software vulnerabilities are identified by security researchers known as “White hat hackers,” before they become an issue. White hat hackers are the good guys. They work to uncover vulnerabilities in popular software, alerting the responsible companies so that the issues can be fixed before a “Black hat hacker” discovers and exploits them. Software developers then create a fix in the form of a software update. After the update becomes available for download, security researchers will then publish their findings of the vulnerability, as security research is very similar to academics – one makes a reputation and living off of their findings.
Many cybercriminals track these publications. Once they find a new vulnerability, the criminals work as quickly as possible to develop an “exploit”. While the vulnerabilities are theoretical in nature, “exploits” are actual computer codes developed to abuse vulnerabilities. Using such an exploit, hackers can then target victims who have not yet updated their software.
Staying safe: Immunizing your device
This is where we come full circle. While an update has already been issued by the software developer, criminals know that many users postpone updates as much as possible. Those users then become targets of criminal exploits. Those who updated, remain immune.
The key takeaway of this article is simple – if there’s a software update available, download it as quickly as possible! The moment the update is released, the clock begins ticking. Postponing may very well result in the installation of device malware, and worse, identity theft. Avoid being a victim. Update now!