Patches - what are they and why are they so important

Scott Adams

Scott Adams

17 June 2021
Have you ever clicked a link in an email thinking it’s from someone you trust? A link that takes you to a website, asking you to enter your account credentials? You innocently enter your details, but then realise it wasn’t actually a legitimate website?

When this happens, it isn’t only your credentials that hackers are trying to steal. They’re seeing if you’re using a computer that hasn’t been ‘patched’. Patches are software and hardware updates and address security vulnerabilities on your computer - for example, a security hole or a weakness found in a software program or operating system. And if your computer’s patches aren’t up to date, hackers can take advantage and install malware/ransomware or any other software, to take advantage of your systems weaknesses.

The likes of Microsoft, Google, Adobe and many more companies send computer updates regularly to repair system vulnerabilities. Almost all of the major software vendors release patches weekly - sometimes more than once a week if new vulnerabilities are discovered! There’s also something called Patch Tuesday (the second Tuesday of each month). It’s an unofficial term used to refer to companies releasing a large batch of software patches for their software and hardware products.

Seeing those little pop-up in windows asking you to install these patches can sometimes be frustrating. But remember they’re there to help keep you safe online. And whilst it’s ok to delay an update by clicking “Remind me Later”, an update should never outright be ignored or delayed for too long. The sooner you update your computer, the safer you’ll be online!

Below are a few key points outlining why updating your software and hardware is so important:
  1. Software updates do more than offer enhancements.  These updates might include fixing security holes that have been discovered, along with fixing bugs and adding any new security features
  2. Hackers love software vulnerabilities! Hackers can take advantage of a weakness by writing code to target the vulnerability. An exploit can sometimes infect your computer with no action on your part other than viewing a rogue website or opening a compromised message.  What happens next? The malware can then steal data saved on your device or allow the attacker to gain control over your computer and encrypt your files
  3. You probably keep a lot of documents and client information on your devices. This information — from emails, documents, to information about your clients — is valuable to hackers. They can use it to commit crimes in your name or sell it on the dark web to enable others to commit crimes. If it’s a ransomware attack, they might encrypt your data. You might have to pay a ransom for an encryption key to get it back
  4. Updates not only patch security holes, they can also add new features and improve existing ones.  Your software program may get a new shot of stability — no more crashing. Or an update might boost program performance — more speed. You could ignore those reminders to update your software, but you might be missing out on a lot, starting with your cyber security
  5. Awareness of cyber security is about looking after your own devices, but you’ve got other people to think about too. If your device gets a virus, you could pass it on to your customers, family and business associates. That’s why you want to keep your software and systems updated. A trusted security program such as McAfee Anti-Virus can help keep your devices secure too. But it’s important to know anti-virus protection isn’t enough to protect your devices against all cyberthreats. Along with vigilance and ensuring your software is kept up to date, anti-virus protection can help keep you and all the people you interact with online safe

Lastly, whilst much of this article focuses on making sure your computer is up to date, don’t forget about servers, network infrastructure and firewalls to get security updates on a regular basis as well!