Why You Need to Update Your Software: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Today we are going to be discussing why it’s a good idea to update your software. If you have a phone, computer, laptop, tablet, fridge, doorbell, car, or well, just about any type of device, it most likely is powered by some sort of software.  Software is like a tree. It’s a living thing that needs to be updated every once in a while.  We’ll be discussing why it’s a good idea to update your software and we’ll also talk about why sometimes it’s better to just wait.  

Since almost everything has software nowadays, I’m sure you’ve seen a message or two updating your software. I want to provide two different perspectives.  I want to discuss updating your software from a software engineering perspective and also from a cyber security perspective.  

Let me start with the software engineer side of the house.  Coming from the software world, software is buggy.  Software updates are a means to patch and hopefully resolve issues with the software you have. I’ve personally written software before and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to account for edge cases out there, so eventually, you might run into one of those cases.  Software updates are a great way to get fixes that developers eventually find and fix. However, sometimes these software updates actually break your things.  In what is commonly known as bricking, sometimes software updates can make your devices completely unusable.  This happens because not enough testing is done on the software before it gets shipped.  Depending on the type of software, the manufacturer might have different configurations and they just didn’t account for every single one.  And it is hard to account for every permutation of your software and hardware.  

From a cybersecurity perspective, it’s kind of a double edge sword as well.  When developers discover or become aware of vulnerabilities, they’ll fix them and issue a software patch.  Microsoft has a very famous patch Tuesday where every Tuesday they push out their weekly roll up of software fixes.  This is a great way to close up vulnerabilities that an attacker may take advantage of to exploit your system.  

The overall problem with software updates is that since we have so many we have to update, we end up just ignoring those updates.  This is perhaps the worst thing that can happen.  In some cases, it is good to wait.  I personally never update to the latest major version of a software package.  I always wait until the 12.0.1 version.  Unless you want to intentionally deal with the headaches behind obtaining version 12.0, I would suggest you wait.  Out of all the software being released, a major rev in the version usually indicates a major new feature or system overhaul.  This typically almost always comes with a high price to pay.  The next version, the minor rev, the .01 version, that one is usually a lot better and it’s the one I recommend.  But other than that first major release, I almost always update my software with the subsequent software revs because they will include the bug fixes and vulnerability patches we discussed earlier.  

To deal with being overwhelmed due to the number of applications you need to update, I recommend you do two things.  One, if your system allows it, enable auto-update.  The updates happen in the background and you’ll never know that the system is updating until it is complete.  This feature is great if updating software stresses you out.  The bad thing is that you will not have any control as to what software you are updating.  This is bad because most software release packages contain release notes which let you know what to expect.  If you have auto update enabled, you will not be able to read the release notes beforehand.  My second tip is to dedicate a day once a week or once a month where you update all of your devices.  These updates are usually very important.  Not updating is worse than updating.  If a device that you own, like your car, has a vulnerability that can be exploited by a hacker, something really bad can happen.  This catastrophic event could be eliminated if you just update your car’s software.    

There you have it.  Your why you should update your software guide 101. Which of these methods are you currently implementing? Are you thinking of implementing a new tactic that you might now have known about? One last thing I want to leave you with.  Updating your software is becoming increasingly more important.  I get that it can be annoying having to deal with all those software updates.  Back in the early days of the iPhone, I remember having to update 20-30 apps on my phone every other week.  I hope that you learned that updating your software is critical not only for software stability, but also to increase your cybersecurity posture.  Hackers have specialized software that will identify the software version of your devices and then know exactly which attacks can work on that device.  This is a constant game of chicken and egg between software manufacturers and hackers.  We just get to play in their game and we should do whatever we can to stay ahead of hackers whenever possible. 

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