© 2012 by charlene mcbride

Do you ignore messages like this? A recent study analyzing the security health of 4.6 million endpoint devices, which included 3.5 million mobile phones across multiple industries and geographic regions revealed that across all devices and operating systems (OS), only about 31% of the devices were running the latest OS version. That means more than two-thirds of the nearly five million devices surveyed were running outdated software, which oftentimes means the devices are vulnerable to being hacked. An even scarier statistic revealed was that use of Microsoft Windows XP in the healthcare industry was up one percent over the previous year—Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP over three years ago!

In this day and age, protecting your computer/laptop and mobile devices with a password should be automatic, and depending on the strength of your password, and the operating system (OS) it’s protecting, that may be a good step towards securing your data from hackers, but even the strongest password won’t protect you from the security vulnerabilities of associated with running outdated software. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your software (especially the OS files) is always up to date. This applies to all computing devices you own, even things like your Nest thermostat, Amazon Echoes, and anything else that connects to the internet. Why are software updates so critical to staying safe?

Many software updates are pushed out in response to security defects discovered by hackers—computer experts with special skills and knowledge for gaining unauthorized access to networks. Once the updates are available to the public, the security defects they aim to fix also become public knowledge, so if you don’t update you could be leaving yourself open to an attack. This doesn’t mean you will be hacked for sure, but is it worth the risk? Updating your software and firmware is the low hanging fruit equivalent of protecting your privacy and data. There’s no reason not to do it.

But with dozens of devices to keep track of, how can you be sure they’re all up to date? This is the good news. It’s getting easier to stay up to date, and many systems are building in automatic updates that you can just “set and forget.” In Windows 10, for example, the system defaults to automatically updating itself. If you’re running Apple’s macOS, you can customize your update settings from the App Store button in the System Preferences app. Pro tip: If you select background OS downloads, your Mac looks for opportunities to download the important updates bits at times, or in a way that impacts you the least, oftentimes while it’s asleep.

Don’t forget about your mobile devices though. According to the study, only 27% of Android phones surveyed were running the latest major OS version, compared with 73% of iPhones being up to date. This is because Apple makes it dead easy to keep your iPhone/iPad up to date—whenever an update is available, it asks you whether you want to install now, later, or even “tonight,” which handles the dirty deed whilst you sleep. Android devices are trickier, because there is such a range of devices, by multiple manufacturers, and not all devices are capable of running the latest OS version. You can see what version of Android your device is running by selecting Settings > About phone/About tablet/About device menu (you may have to also tap on ‘Software information’ if the version isn’t shown).

Check your devices now, and make sure you’ve got the latest OS, and that you’re set to get updates automatically. This is something we do with new clients, when getting them set up with login credentials to our secure client portal, because it won’t matter how great the password is its vulnerable to being accessed by a hacker.

Further reading: Before doing any major software or firmware updates, make sure your data is backed up.