Software updates: Why they are important to your security

We’ve all been there – your computer wants to do a software update right when you are in the middle of something, so you click the notification away. It’s ok to wait an hour or two before going back and performing the update, but ignoring updates entirely can be dangerous.
Why? Because they often include important security updates to protect your computer or phone from malware and other risks.

by Alyssa Schmitt
Smiling woman works on laptop in office
Updates keep your system running smoothly – and securely

Keep devices and programs up to date

A software update is a change or fix to a program that replaces the older version. There may just be a few tweaks to improve the way it works, or it could offer entirely new features. These updates are usually provided at regular intervals by the software manufacturer and are downloaded from the internet to the device.  

Software updates not only give the makers a chance to roll out new features and functions and fix bugs, but also to repair any security vulnerabilities. This doesn’t just apply to operating system updates like a Windows update on your computer or an iOS or Android update on your smartphone – software such as antivirus programs, internet browsers, office programs and email apps all need to be updated.

Security patches

Cybercriminals and hackers look for errors or other weaknesses in programs that they can exploit to infiltrate devices with malware – computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, etc.  Of course software manufacturers don’t just sit idly by and let this happen. They continuously test their software for flaws, sometimes assisted by “ethical hackers” outside the company.  If a security risk is detected, this dangerous gap is “patched” with fixes to the software. These security patches are usually delivered to the users through automatic software updates. So even if you have good antivirus and other security programs on your device, keeping your software up to date is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself against hacking and malware.

What happens without updates?

In most cases, you can continue to use your software and devices without updating them. So this can make it tempting to keep putting off updates if they threaten to interrupt work or online browsing. However, without performing updates you won’t get any new product features or bug fixes – not to mention the security patches discussed above. Sometimes updates contain optimizations to the performance and speed of the software, and not installing them might even affect performance negatively. In addition, if you don’t update your device’s operating system, you may not be able to install or use new software or apps that are only compatible with newer versions of the operating system.

What’s the best way to manage software updates?

When it comes to updates, here are some important points to keep in mind:
  • Modern operating systems will have automatic updates enabled by default. That means that if you do not actively switch off automatic updates (which we don’t recommend!) you don’t have to worry about missing an update – your computer or phone will automatically check for available updates. Most smartphones will then automatically perform updates overnight as long as they are charged and have an internet connection.
  • Even if your device automatically checks for updates, sometimes it will notify you and ask for action before the update is performed. For example, your Windows computer might tell you it needs to be shut down or restarted to complete an update. You should do this immediately – or if you are busy with something important, do it as soon as possible after you have finished and saved what you’re working on. If you wait until the next day, your computer may force an update and restart at an inconvenient time.
  • If you have disabled automatic updates (again, this is not recommended!), your devices or apps should still notify you when an update is available. You should always download and install security updates immediately. The faster you are, the sooner any security gaps will be patched. If you have programs that don’t notify you about updates, you should set yourself reminders to check for and perform updates manually.

Where do I check for software updates?

Mac software updates
To check for available software updates on your Mac:
  1. Go to your Apple menu
  2. Click System Settings > General
  3. Click Software Update
  4. The system will automatically check for new software
  5. If an update is available, click Update to install
  6. If no new software is available, it will say your Mac is up to date

Windows software updates
The process for checking for updates is almost the same in Windows 10 and Windows 11:
  1. Select the Start button
  2. In Windows 10, go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update
  3. In Windows 11, go to Settings > Windows Update
  4. Any available updates will be shown
  5. If your computer is up to date, you will see “Windows is up to date”

Software update for iPhone
You can check for and install updates at any time on your iPhone:
  1. Go to your iPhone settings
  2. Tap General > Software Update
  3. The currently installed version of iOS will be displayed
  4. If no update is needed, it will say “iOS is up to date"
  5. If an update is available, follow the instructions to install

Software update Android
The process for checking for security updates is similar on most Android phones, although the wording may vary depending on your phone model:
  1. Go to your phone’s Settings app
  2. Tap Security & Privacy > System & Updates
  3. Tap Security Update
  4. Your update status will be displayed
  5. If any updates are available, follow the steps on the screen

What if you can’t update your device?

Sometimes you may have an old computer or phone that is no longer supported by the manufacturer, which means software updates are no longer made available. For example, currently the oldest iPhone model supported by Apple is the iPhone 6s, so if you had an iPhone 5 or older, you would no longer be able to update to the latest version of the iOS operating system. This also means that you wouldn’t be able to install any new apps that were incompatible with older iOS versions, and that many of your other apps would no longer be automatically updated. If you are unable to update the software on your computer or phone, you should seriously consider purchasing a new device for security reasons. If you don’t want to buy a brand-new laptop or phone, you can look into getting a more recent used model that is still supported.

What about the Mail App?

The mobile email app is also updated regularly to ensure smooth functioning and optimum security. For Android devices, we recommend that customers use version 7 of the app or higher and Android OS version 9 or higher; for Apple devices, app version 8 or higher and iOS version 14 or higher.

We hope this article highlighted the importance of software updates! We look forward to your feedback below.

This article first appeared on May 15, 2022, and was updated on May 8, 2024.

Images: 1&1/GettyImages


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