The truth is, most updates are actually security updates.
Why is it that your Mac or iPhone is always asking you to install updates, and you’re always hitting “ignore,” or “remind me tomorrow,” or “ask me in an hour”? Perhaps because updating is time-consuming, or maybe you have a nagging suspicion that the update will make things worse, hit your battery life or even brick your device.
The truth is, you should install those updates as soon as they’re available. From a privacy and security perspective, updates are essential. In fact, often the updates are driven by security or privacy improvements and as soon as they’re out, you become LESS SECURE if you don’t install them because the update itself makes hackers, scammers, and bad actors aware of new vulnerabilities.
Let’s look at the relationship between devices and software, hackers, vulnerabilities, and how companies react to discovered security issues to get a better understanding of the security and privacy implications of updates.
There is a constant struggle between ‘good’ hackers and ‘bad’ hackers
Hackers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities and new ways to get into your phone and computer, and vulnerabilities can exist due to a company’s poor security, or because a hacker found a new way to hack a company or their product.
White hat hackers— or ‘security researchers’—are hackers looking for these vulnerabilities but for helpful reasons. If a new vulnerability is discovered, white hat hackers reach out to companies to let them know.
The vulnerability is the core of it here. Black hat hackers (bad guys) either use the vulnerability to attack a company or sell knowledge/software that takes advantage of the vulnerability. White hat hackers (good guys), warn companies and/or users (usually companies first) so companies can take the time and resources to fix the vulnerability.
This fix is passed down to users in the form of updates, keeping companies and its customers safe, until a new vulnerability is found. This dynamic is constant and it’s why it’s so important to stick with your updates.
Why updates are necessary
Security fixes are sent to devices and software as updates, so you can think of updating your software and phone as ‘fixing’ your phone or software. If your phone is broken, the first thing you would do is fix it. Updating your phone fixes existing weaknesses and also has the benefit of often making your software and device better while giving you the most secure version of it. If you haven’t updated an app in a year or so, you’re more vulnerable to hacks.
The easiest way to stay secure is to set your device and apps to auto-update. There’s basically no downside to auto-updates, and it’ll save you a lot of time while keeping you secure and private.
And you won’t have to dismiss those annoying notifications every time you turn on your computer. Because if you skip it, you’re basically choosing to keep your stay at risk and making yourself vulnerable.
What about new bugs?
Rarely (very rarely), a new update can introduce new problems, leading to issues with your existing hardware or software. When this happens, people and the press make the issue seem bigger than it is, dissuading others from installing the update. However, any new bugs are usually fixed VERY quickly, within a day or several hours.
These events happen relatively rarely, and almost always the issues are small and isolated. If a few thousand iPhone users have a problem, it’s actually not a lot, compared to the 1B+ iPhone users. Read these ‘warnings’ carefully – very often they do not apply to you.
The most common problem you might run into is having software updates causing issues with other apps. This can happen with older apps, and apps that themselves need to be updated. Painful as it may be, you are far better to get the latest version of all your apps, and stay safe.