Battling Software Update Fatigue

For over 20 years we have been on a never-ending cycle of being told that the software we use has bugs or security issues and that it has been fixed in an update or patch. But those updates have had a tendency of breaking something else, and the whole cycle begins again. In the worst cases, a bad operating system update has left users completely in the lurch without a working computer and so people have become weary of updates, even to the point of refusing to install them. How many times have you restarted a computer only to realize that there were updates pending, and now you have no idea how long it will be before you can use it again to get on with some work? Microsoft even acknowledged this frustration by adding a ‘Pause updates for 7 days’ option into Windows Update.

We are often told that 80% of network breaches could have been avoided if the available software patches had been applied, so why aren’t we applying them? Is it because the software developers live in a bubble? Their high-end hi-spec machines and ultra-fast internet connections means that updates do take 10 minutes rather than an hour. Or that they do not have anyone to answer to if a system is down due to an update as their customers are not affected. It would explain why they seem oblivious to our problems with updates. But updates are like taxes, the longer you put them off, the worst things get as it all piles up. If you do not install security patches, you run the risk of potential infections, which are far worse than endlessly being told that an update has been at 100% for the past 15 minutes. If companies like Microsoft addressed some of these annoyances and gave us actual meaningful progress feedback, we could get on with something else instead of waiting expectantly.

Unfortunately, after 20 years the feedback has got worse, so we need to approach updates with strategies to reduce the inconvenience they cause. Small things like leaving your computer logged out rather than shutting down at night or getting into the habit of restarting your computer when you finish for the day can help. Schedule updates to be applied in the middle the night, and if you can, invest in a patch management solution. These scan your machine for installed software, identify available updates or patches and help you to manage the process. Some premium antivirus solutions even include patch management in their feature set as it is a recognized part of staying secure. Ultimately, a second device like a tablet or laptop (preferably with a different operating system) allows you to get on with some work while the updates are being applied. Occasionally, your computer may unexpectedly crash for one reason or another and restarting it could trigger a major pending update, so you will be grateful for the second device.

Using unsupported out of date software and operating systems is not the answer either to update fatigue. Sure, you are no longer plagued by annoying updates and forced restarts, but more importantly you are significantly at a much higher risk of a malware infection and being a victim of cyber-crime. Security flaws and vulnerabilities in older operating systems and common software are targeted by automated attacks known as exploit kits, which sit on compromised websites waiting for you to be directed to them. Every month new security flaws are found, and older flaws are fixed by software developers, but if you never update your software, the number of flaws increase as time goes on. Recently there was a major flaw discovered in the Zoom conferencing software that affected users of Windows 7 and only Windows 7, no other later versions were affected.

You can check if your Microsoft Windows operating system is still supported and when support ends at: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/13853/windows-lifecycle-fact-sheet — but to give you an idea, the following version of Windows are no longer receiving updates Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, as well Windows 10 versions 1803, 1709, 1703, 1607, 1511 and 1507. If you are on one of the early Windows 10 versions, you can update to a newer version, though this may take a while. While Windows 7 users have the option of paid support at around £50 for the first year, but it doubles in the second year.

Also, don’t forget that patches and updates are not limited to desktop computers and laptops, tablets and mobiles also have updates, for both the operating system and the apps. Let’s not forget devices that don’t have a screen, or albeit a very small one, like printers, routers, firewalls, WiFi access points and the many combinations of SMART devices. Patches and updates can be a headache and nuisance, even to the point where over the past decade I can safely say they have caused more downtime that any malicious cyber-attacks, but that may be in part to the fact that I have applied those same patches and updates, preventing many of those attacks.

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