Keeping Software Up-to-date

Udpating your computer

One of the best ways - by far - of keeping viruses away from your computer is to simply keep your software up to date.

Whilst antivirus software helps to detect viruses, keeping your computer software updated can help to prevent them getting onto your machine in the first place.

Jump straight to topic:


What are software updates?

A software update progress bar

Computer viruses take hold by exploiting flaws in software code. These could be anything, from not knowing how to deal with unusual user input, to failing to play well with other programs.

It's these quirks that virus writers are constantly looking for & trying to exploit.

Whenever software manufacturers find an issue they'll develop and release updates to fix them - think of it like a sticking plaster for a cut. To help prevent viruses you should ensure these patches are applied as they're released.

Fortunately a lot of software can be set to update automatically, making the process much easier for you.


Which programs do I need to update - and how?

Ideally all software on your computer should be kept up to date as any programs can catch a virus. This isn't always practical though, so we've listed the main ones that virus writers have historically targeted.

Most of the software listed below will update themselves automatically, however we've detailed how you can manually ensure they're up to date.

Operating Systems

The Operating System is the beating heart of your computer or phone; it's an incredibly complex piece of software that enables all other software to run. On most home PCs this is either Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX, whilst for phones the most common are iOS (for iPhones) and Android.

The system you have will determine how you update it:

Web Browsers

Your web browser is the application you use to view the internet, such as Chrome, Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari.

Safari (on Apple Mac computers and iPhones) and Microsoft Edge & Internet Explorer (on Windows computers) will update automatically when you update your operating system, however if you have either Firefox, Chrome, or Opera then you'll need to update these separately:

Other Applications

As well as your operating system and browser, viruses will sometimes try to exploit other applications you have installed on your computer. For this reason you should also try to keep all your software up to date to help prevent infections.

Many programs these days will automatically check for updates, but if you're not sure you can normally manually check for them too.


Why can't program makers get it right the first time?

One question that's regularly asked is why do we need these regular patches - why can't software makers develop secure programs in the first place? On the face of it it would seem simple to do. Sadly though, it isn't.

Wifi signals across a city

We take for granted all the features our software has, but with increased functionality comes increased complexity. We're also living in an interconnected world with lots of systems talking to each other in complex ways.

This complexity makes it exceedingly difficult to identify all possible decisions that a piece of software may make - it's inevitable that there'll always be some unintended consequences that haven't been foreseen. Attackers only need to be lucky once by finding just one weakness; software developers need to prevent them all.

Over the last decade there's been huge progress in developing software that's fundamentally more secure (even if it may not always seem it!).

Software developer looking at computer code

After several highly damaging viruses in the early 2000's, the Microsoft boss Bill Gates sent out a now infamous memo to all employees making security their top priority. As a direct result of this, Microsoft developed new strategies and approaches to software development, perhaps most importantly pioneering something known as the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL). This framework ensures that security is considered throughout the entire software lifecycle - even before the first bit of code has been writen.

Microsoft have made this methodology public and it, along with similar initiatives, has transformed the way in which many companies do software development.

Of course, whilst many companies do take security seriously, many other companies don't. It's a fact of life that companies are in existence to make money - and to do this they often need to push their products out to market quickly.

This focus on speed can sometimes be at the expense of security - after all as consumers we predominantly buy features and always want the latest and greatest product. Security is something we hope we can take for granted, but the reality is that as consumers we have no way of making reasonable judgements about how secure products are anyway.

Until someone comes up with a easy way for customers to rank products by how secure they are, then the development of new features will always be a company's priority - not security.


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