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Software update notifications seem like a constant companion on every computer. Every app wants to update regularly, and they nag us with notifications until we give in and update. These notifications can be inconvenient, especially when apps pester you with them while you’e busy, but keeping your installed applications updated is important for a variety of reasons – especially security.
You may already know this, but maybe your friends don’t, and this is where we come in and save you a bunch of explaining. Automatic updates that happen silently in the background can help reduce the nag factor, if you enable them. An increasing number of applications are adding automatic, silent updates that don’t involve nagging.
Having the latest versions of your applications is important for a variety of reasons:
- Security: New versions often fix security vulnerabilities in older versions of software. For example, if you’re running an older version of Internet Explorer and haven’t installed the latest updates for it from Windows Update, your version of Internet Explorer may be insecure. If you visit a malicious website, that website could compromise your system and install malicious software – for example, software that logs your online banking information or credit card numbers and sends it to an unscrupulous person over the Internet.
- Stability: New versions of software also fix other, non-security-related bugs. For example, a new version could solve crashes you may be experiencing or make a feature work properly.
- Features: Major new versions of software generally add new features you can take advantage of. For example, updating the Mozilla Firefox browser to a new major release will give you new browser features.
- Performance: New versions of software can also increase the software’s performance – for example, if you’re still using Internet Explorer 6, you’ll see a big web-browsing speed increase if you update to Internet Explorer 9.
When a new version an app is released – particularly one with security fixes – the developer can’t expect that every user will hear about it, visit their website, and download the update manually. Instead, many apps – especially ones where security fixes are particularly important, like operating systems and web browsers – will occasionally “phone home” and ask what the latest version is. If there’s a newer version available, the software will alert you with an update notification.
Most of the update notifications you see are for include important security updates. Microsoft isn’t adding big new features to Windows every month – they’re fixing security holes. It’s generally important to install new versions of software as soon as possible after you see the update.
Automatic & Silent Updates
Automatic, silent updates are a more convenient way to receive updates. Instead of applications nagging you to update, they’ll automatically update themselves in the background. Google Chrome was one of the first applications to start this trend – Google Chrome automatically keeps itself up-to-date, so you never have to worry about whether you have the latest version or click through update dialogs.
Other applications like Mozilla Firefox and Adobe Flash have followed Google Chrome’s lead. You can also enable automatic updates for Windows itself.
Most users should leave silent updates enabled – it’s a big time saver when you’ll just install the updates yourself anyway. It’s important not to disable silent updates and update notifications or you’ll be using out-of-date software and leave yourself open to attack.
Some people worry that enabling silent updates allows the software developer to download and run any code they want on your computer. In reality, the developer can do anything it wants to your computer if it has software running on it. The developer is doing you the courtesy of asking whether you want automatic updates or not, but a malicious piece of software doesn’t have to ask your permission. If you’re really worried about this, you can disable automatic updates for most apps and ask it to prompt you before installing updates.
For more tips on staying safe online, download HackerProof, our free guide to PC security.
Feel free to share this post with novice computer users who may not realize the importance of updates. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below!