In many of our posts, we mention the need to update your software to “keep your tech happy” or to “make sure your tech is running at lightning speed”. But what I recently realized is that we haven’t gone into depth on why it’s important. And if you’re like us, you like to know all the reasons behind what you’re doing. So that’s what this is: a post on the importance of updating/patching software when a new update is released and for upgrading away from software that is obsolete and potentially dangerous.
A couple of quick definitions before we dive in:
- End-of-Life: This is typically the last stage of a software’s sales life cycle. The developer has decided at this point to no longer sell, market, or offer substantial feature upgrades to the product. Typically this occurs when a whole new version/iteration of the software is released.
- End-of-Service Life: This is when the developer decides that it will no longer provide technical support for the product. This termination of support includes updates and security patches.
So, “end of life” means it’s no longer the latest and greatest, but it’s typically still getting security updates and the vendor will give you technical support. “End of service life” means this product is really dead, and you probably should stop using it. Using software past “end of service life” is especially dangerous in the case of operating systems like Windows or web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome because they are so commonly the target of hacking attempts.
I’m not going to bore you with a giant list of software that have reached, or are close to reaching, their EOSL (most developers have those lists on their websites anyway). If you’re curious about a specific piece of software it’s usually easiest to just search for that software’s life cycle policy. But, long story short, various software have reached this stage, and unfortunately there are a lot of individuals still using them.
For example, a lot of users are still using old operating systems, in particular old versions of Windows. Although these systems no longer receive updates or security patches, as of February 2017 around 10% of Windows PCs are still running XP or Vista, which have stopped getting security updates from Microsoft! This isn’t just a Windows problem though: 5.46% of the market using a Mac are still running MacOS 10.10-10.12.
The importance of updating your operating system can’t be overstated, but it’s also important to remember that your applications and browsers need to be updated as well. For many desktop applications you can check the relevant app store easily to see if they need to be updated, and most will even send you a push notification telling you to update. Our advice: find a good stopping place when you see that notification and update!
The three most popular browsers are Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Click the links below for instructions on how to check to see if those need to be updated!
Updating your web browser is absolutely critical! A huge number of malware infections come about by accidentally browsing to a site that has been designed (either from the get-go or by hackers that broke into the site itself) to automatically compromise computers with out-of-date web browsers.
*Side Note: sometimes with EOSL products there isn’t something new to update to, like in the case of Apple Quicktime 7 for Windows. In a case like that, it may be time to uninstall that piece of software completely (in the case of Quicktime for Windows - you should definitely uninstall if it’s still running on your device).
We know that updating can take time, cause stress (hello, what if I lose all my documents?), and be overall kind of inconvenient. But it really is important.
As shown by the WannaCry attack, hackers will often try to take advantage of security vulnerabilities in older software that is no longer being maintained by the developer.
Having the newest version and performing security patches on software is often mandatory for regulatory compliance as well. For example, running software like Windows Server 2003 or XP, which again no longer receive any security updates from Microsoft, likely fall short of compliance standards for HIPAA and PCI.
And if none of those reasons were enough to convince you, many updates also improve the performance of the software, your device, and may fix obnoxious bugs. Outdated software can cause your device to run slowly, not load pages or applications correctly, crash, and possibly even cause incompatibility between your applications and your device.
I mentioned above that many people worry about updates and the chance of something going wrong, resulting in lost data. To prevent loss it’s important to make sure your data is being regularly backed up and, if you’re a business, that those backups are being monitored.
If you’re unsure of where to look for major operating system updates:
- Click here for instructions to check for Mac updates
- Click here for instructions to check for Windows updates
That’s all for our brief, but a little more in depth, explanation on the importance of updating your software and applications.
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For similar posts check out our master list of Cyber Security blogs.