In the world of cybersecurity, almost nothing is as important for the safety of systems and the people that use those systems as keeping software updated. Still, it is not just safety, but the safety and integrity of systems are key here too. Then, thirdly, the protection of sensitive data stored on servers is another reason. Finally, without updates, you would never have any new features to play with or shiny new operating system interfaces to look at. Out of all of these factors though, security is number one, always.
It is now well-established that updates are critical for your system safety. This is being focused on by the largest cybersecurity organizations and think tanks, the biggest IT corporations in the world. Conferences and events take place all the time to address safety, and topics like backups and updates are always a central theme. Updating itself is taken very seriously by the entire industry for very good reasons which we’ll get into in a moment.
Before we do, let’s understand the problem. The problem is that hundreds of millions of people are unaware of just how important it is to keep their devices updated. It is also important to understand that we all make use of the internet, from the regular guy and girl at a local cafe to the highest levels of government. It is still the same internet across which everyone’s traffic travels back and forth in what is called TCP and UDP data traffic packets. So, it isn’t just casual citizens who use the internet that forget about updates, but even the most professional organizations that overlook the importance of updates.
For these reasons, let’s inform ourselves on how to mitigate the myriad risks and dangers. The bonus here is that the tips you will find below are not difficult to implement at all. Without further ado, let’s take a look at what updates are, what happens if an update is skipped, or not applied, and finally, some cybersecurity recommendations that apply to anyone using the internet.
What Are Updates?
Software updates are an integral part of software development, that goes for any software out there; operating system, application, firmware, service software, system-level BIOS, etc. Software updates can either be administered (installed) manually by an administrator if the system is a little more complex or industry-grade, otherwise, practically all modern-day consumer-facing applications and operating systems are automatically updated.
The average tech company has a host of departments for its products. Within these departments, you will find engineers, software developers, managers, and other employees. There are those who build hardware, then the software developers, along with network specialists, quality control teams, and finally security specialists.
Let’s say that the company we are talking about is Apple. As we know, Apple builds high-quality tech products like smartphones, watches, tablets, desktop computers, and laptop computers, as well as other smart accessories. In order to do all of this, Apple needs people who will both build the physical machines themselves, and people who will build and test the software that acts as an interface to the hardware components.
Updates are on the software side, and do several things. Generally, updates are slightly different from fixes and patches (which are more the security angle.) Although, in general, any kind of revision or improvement to a system can be called an update. Updates are meant to do the following;
- Fix security vulnerabilities
- Fix stability issues
- Keep the system compatible with other products
- Add new features or apply a complete overhaul
Why Updates Are Critical For Optimal Security
As we now know, software updates are a fundamental domino under the hood of a finished tech product that is like an essential glue holding everything together. A system that is not updated will fall out of line with the points in the earlier section; that is; it will be insecure, unstable, incompatible, and fall behind in features. If a system is not updated, the domino will fall and topple all the other dominos in the system. Like with everything else, a whole is only as strong as its weakest link.
The biggest worry, however, is not stability or compatibility, or new features for that matter. The biggest threat to a system that is out of touch with the latest updates is security vulnerabilities that can easily be exploited by internet criminals. At the end of the day, the software is (still) being written by human beings. One thing all human beings have in common is the fact that they make mistakes. A typical software program, like an app on your computer or smartphone, will have thousands or even tens of thousands of lines of code written by software developers. An entire operating system will have much, much more than that and takes years to complete for a team of dozens of developers. Without this code that is the lifeblood of the system, you would not see anything on your screen, you would have nothing to interact with. Without code, the operating system cannot speak with the hardware (the CPU, the RAM, etc.)
Insecure coding is a big issue in an industry that is pressed by demand and other factors such as staying competitive, to release software as quickly as possible. As a result, when there is a rush involved, something will go wrong at some point. Somebody will trip up somewhere and write incorrect or insecure code. Think of it like plugging holes in your boat that you haven’t noticed were there before. The manufacturer probably did not see these holes either. The holes could potentially sink the boat. Insecure code is the same thing.
An internet criminal, hacker, or cybercriminal, loves to exploit these holes or errors in code. Let’s just call them hackers. Errors in code are basically their bread and butter. A security hole resulting from an insecure code will be leveraged by hackers to form what is known as a software exploit. A hacker can write malicious code (malware) to take advantage of insecure coding, which can result in catastrophic events such as enormous data breaches, Zero-Day vulnerabilities, ransomware attacks, and much more. They can take over the entire system and all of the data if they wish and lock everyone else out.
Billions of dollars of damage have been done because of that little software vulnerability problem we’re talking about, businesses have been wiped off the map, and confidential or sensitive customer data is severely compromised. Even the top levels of government have been infiltrated because of insecure code and lack of a timely update to the system. Some of these catastrophic events can even lead to the loss of human life or severe sabotage of critical infrastructure.
Cybersecurity Best Practices For Software Updates
Now that we understand that errors in code are a normal occurrence, we can appreciate the importance of regular updates that developers sweat to constantly put out to patch the security holes. For this reason, it is extremely important that you enable automatic updates on all of your devices and systems because this feature is not always automatically enabled. You can always cross-check with the official manufacturer’s website if you have installed the latest version, and do not wait to do so.
In much the same way, software like industry-grade firmware and open-source software that caters to a large user base (like CMS software, financial software, database management software to name a few) requires that administrators make sure the latest fixes and patches are installed into the backend. Secure coding practices are a big deal, which has led to the creation of open development platforms such as GitLab where software developers can collaborate, work together to check each other’s work, and even automate the environment in an agile manner to create the best software possible in the most efficient way possible.