There are two main types of software update. There are those for your operating system (Windows, Mac OS etc.) and those for the programs you have installed. Software updates fix security issues and correct bugs, primarily.
Operating systems and most programs include mechanisms to distribute software updates automatically over the Internet. This is why you will frequently see a notification on your computer that an update is available – your operating system or a program has ‘called home’ over the Internet and discovered the update.
What should you do when you see one of these notifications?
In most cases you should install the update. While there is always a small risk that an update will cause problems of its own, the benefits of eliminating security issues usually outweigh this risk. For example, imagine you’re notified that an update is available for your web browser (e.g. FireFox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari). The makers of your browser have been working hard to fix the issues that the update addresses. Meanwhile, criminals have been working hard to exploit the same issues to attack the computers of innocent users. If you don’t install the update and you’re unlucky enough to stumble upon one of their maliciously crafted websites, your computer is vulnerable to attack.
Any installed program can play a similar scenario. It’s harder for hackers to exploit issues with programs that open other types of files, such as pictures or office documents, but it’s far from impossible. You might receive a document from a trusted associate, but perhaps that person’s computer has been compromised without their knowledge. If your software is out of date, you’re taking unnecessary risks.
How do you know if an update is genuine?
Our advice is simple. Get used to installing updates. Become familiar with the appearance of notifications from the software you have installed. Then you will be less likely to be fooled by a fake.
When should you decline an update?
If you’re working to a strict deadline and you’re offered an update for software that’s critical to the completion of your project, you may choose to defer installing the update pending completion of the project, just in case the update causes problems. Also, if you have serious doubts about the authenticity of an update notification, you may choose to decline it until you can verify its authenticity. Make a note of any information contained in the notification, especially details of version numbers, then check the software maker’s website for information about the update. If the information matches then it’s probably safe to install it.
As a general rule, keep all your software as up to date as possible. If you’re unwilling to keep a specific program up to date, consider removing it from your computer.