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Updating Software and Why It Matters

If you own or use a technological gadget — basically all of us over the age 8, right? — you are likely plagued daily, or at least weekly, with annoying little reminders to download updates and restart your browser, application or computer. It’s a seemingly never-ending nuisance, and unless you are experiencing glitches or breaks, you are probably asking yourself, do I really need to install this update if I am not having any issues?

The answer is a very definitive “YES.”

Before I started working in tech and before I jumped into cybersecurity, I thought of updates as ways to make software or operating systems run more efficiently. Patches do so much more, though. They provide added security and fix new vulnerabilities.

But What Are Software Updates?

Software updates are referred to as patches or, to a lesser extent, service packs. They are created for two reasons: to patch security holes and make it harder for hackers to infect your system with a nefarious piece of coding; or to fix a bug, or a developer coding mistake.

Updates install over current program versions, and there is no need to uninstall or adjust the application upon installation. Most software updates do not adjust customized settings or delete saved data. Although, this is not always the case. A couple of years ago, Facebook updated its website, reverting its users’ security settings to default without warning. If you are like me, and prefer to keep most things fairly private, I suggest double-checking settings after updating, or after a website you use has any major changes.

Update vs. Upgrade?

An update patches the software’s current version and is typically provided for free.

An upgrade is a new version of the software and must be installed separately. Upgrades will not have any of your customized settings and should be treated the same as installing new software. They also take up more space and more steps and time to install.

While you should always back up your files before performing routine maintenance, it is even more important when upgrading your operating system — like moving from Windows 8 to Windows 10 — or programs and applications because there is a greater risk of your system crashing or something else going wrong.

Why Bother?

With these risks, you might be asking why upgrade software. Again, it comes down to security. It’s not necessarily just for the developer to get more of your money. The upgrade might have been prompted by a zero-day vulnerability discovery, basically a security hole that cannot be negated with a patch; a demand for additional functions; a complete system redesign; or a combination of all of these things, as is usually the case.

Updates allow developers to fix user-reported issues quickly until a new version, or upgrade, is available.

Why Should We Care?

Discussing security issues and explaining why they matter are two entirely different things.

Do you use anti-virus software, endpoint protection or a proxy if you have children? How old is your operating system? All of those pieces of software open up your computer, and therefore your data, to cyberattacks, whether it is a minor infection or the hostage-taking CryptoWall ransomware you have to pay to unlock. Either way, your information is more easily compromised or lost when updates are ignored. All of the anti-virus software in the world will do no good if it’s out of date.

Take the five minutes (OK, maybe 20) and update your programs when it’s available. Or, better yet, opt for your device and programs to automatically install updates.

Additional Resources:

Facebook security settings:

Upgrading issues:

Upgrading preparation:

Upgrade versus update: