Truly, automatic updates could be annoying sometimes, particularly on (Windows) PCs. Automatic updates have, severally, eaten up my internet bandwidth. I’ve lost unsaved work more than twice to (abrupt/unscheduled) automatic updates. I’ve had to deal with the terrible design/interface changes that come with certain updates. I’ve fought update-inflicted bugs and instability. I’ve been delayed for hours because an (automatic) update took ‘ages’ to get installed. Sometimes, auto-updates even causes a program to break. The truth is, we all have, one time or another, had not-so-sweet experiences with automatic updates. Some do not even see reasons why they need them or why it is important to their computer.
These —and more— are understandable reasons why you’d want to turn off automatic updates on your devices. But despite the downsides attached, you really shouldn’t turn them off.
What exactly do updates do?
One of the major reasons why updates to software exist is to protect you. Security aside, software companies also roll out updates to products to help you get stuff done, more easily and swiftly. As new technologies emerge, hackers are also developing new techniques and methods to attack and force their ways through the loopholes that exist in such technologies. And trust me, there’s always a loophole.
Cyberattacks are increasingly becoming rife by the day, and software companies owe it to you to keep you (and your data) safe from the ‘bad guys’. Hence the release of timely updates.
As earlier mentioned, there is always a loophole and no software is 100% hack-resistant. Companies understand this and therefore spend huge amount of money researching how you could be vulnerable to attacks using their products. When they find any attack point, loophole, or a window through which you can be attacked, they quickly release a ‘patch’ to block this hole. These patches are sent to users in the form of software updates.
Picture this as having a hole in your roof. You don’t want to wait till it’s raining before you call the roofer, right? The same way you call the plumber when you discover a water leak in your kitchen or anywhere in the house. You don’t want your house to get flooded, damaging expensive furniture and electronics in the process. This is how updates work too.
Frequently releasing updates to software reduces the chances of your device being attacked by ‘blocking’ all possible entry points that leaves you vulnerable to cyberattacks.
But why do companies make updates an automatic process?
Because updates are important to you! You don’t ask your baby or a toddler if s(he) wants to be vaccinated, do you? You simply take him/her to the hospital with zero input from the toddler because the vaccines shield the baby from certain infections. That’s what software companies do with updates too.
They design products to auto-update by default because you need them — to shield you from preventable damages you have no idea existed. If you wait to update manually, it might be too late. And if you do not update at all, you might be more vulnerable to attacks than a user with updated software.
Besides, leaving users to update their software could be too much work. Some might not even remember to update their app at all while some will simply procrastinate till they eventually forget.
It takes two to tango
In a 2017 blog post titled “The need for urgent collective action to keep people safe online,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s Executive President and Chief Legal Officer, stated that Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, not that of software companies alone. These companies do their part by releasing timely updates to keep their users safe. Some users, on the other hand, always choose not to install these updates.
This is sad (and dangerous) because there really is no other way for users to protect themselves from these threats and attacks other than installing patches/updates released by software companies. Brad says using software without updating them is akin to “fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past.”… and he’s right; that statement still holds water.
Using a 2017 OS/software/app in 2019 without installing any update(s) at all leaves you exposed to attacks. The security capability of your 2017 software doesn’t match the sophistication of 2019 cyberattacks. So yes, as Brad said, you’d be fighting problems of the present with tools from the past if you refuse to install updates.
And if you choose to install updates manually, you might forget about it. The longer you delay installing an update, the more vulnerable your device becomes. Say you wait for 2 weeks before you manually install an update that’s designed to protect your computer from a new virus called XYZ, your device could be attacked by the XYZ virus during the wait period.
Bottom line: trust your software/app/OS/device to automatically update itself. The company that pushed the update to you have your interest at heart; stop turning off automatic updates.
Hopefully, companies would work towards making these auto-update processes more convenient, less-buggy, painless, and faster in the future. That way, more users would embrace auto-update than they currently do and stop turning them off.