Should I Install Updates?

System Update
Image courtesy of bovinity
“Should I install those updates that my computer is always bugging me for?”
Yes, absolutely. The reason is that those updates almost always represent a security hole that the software publisher has found in their program, and any of those security holes could mean letting someone access your machine.

People have a sense that, unless they have a lot of money or sensitive corporate information on their computer, “hackers” won’t care about it, but this is false. The people who write malicious software (“malware”) are almost always using a shotgun approach; they are firing wildly into the internet and hoping to hit someone, anyone. Think of it this way: they’re not aiming to get $5 million dollars from one person, they’re looking for $50 from 100,000 people.

Beyond that, even if you don’t have any sensitive information, or any money at all, a malware author can use access to your machine to turn it into a “zombie”, following his or her commands. If they use those 100,000 machines all at once they can suddenly get into much more sophisticated attacks on bigger targets. Your computer might just be a stepping stone to something much more valuable, like, for example, your bank.

I know that those updates are annoying, but they’re vitally important to keeping you and everyone else on the internet secure. Here’s a (non-comprehensive) list of some of the software that I, personally, have seen allow attackers to take over a system:

  • Windows
  • Adobe products, especially Reader
  • Internet Explorer
  • Java
  • Microsoft Office products (Word, Outlook, Excel, etc.)
  • Firefox
  • Dozens of downloadable games
  • And, yes, even Mac OS X

You’re almost certainly running several of these programs, and one of the two operating systems (Windows or Mac OS). If so, then you are running software that has been used to attack computers in the past, and the only two ways to close those holes are to disconnect completely from the internet and never plug even a thumb drive into your computer, or to apply the software updates as they come out.