Tuesday Tip: How to Update Phone Software and Become Harder and More Expensive to Hack

Not sure why you should update? Update your software for mobile phone security.

“Keep your software updated!” is the closest thing we have to mobile phone security advice that will work for everyone. But the reasoning behind it can be counter-intuitive, and even quick updates can feel inconvenient, slow down our devices, or intolerably interrupt people’s workflows.

No software is perfect. Programmers make mistakes, best practices get updated, and security problems are discovered over time.
Sometimes, amateur or professional security researchers, academics, or employees at the company itself discover such problems, and report them back to the developers to get fixed. When that’s the case, the company can release phone software updates (also known as “patches”) to correct the problem. If you update your phone software as soon as that pesky “Update!” notification pops up, you are staying current with the best available protections—you’ll no longer be a “target of opportunity” for cheap attacks that try to catch people running out-of-date software.

But what happens if you don’t update your software immediately? Once a company releases a security update to fix a bug, the bug is somewhat “old news.” It may be commonly known and understood in the security research community, or, over time, people will be able to reverse-engineer the security update to figure out the details of the bug. These bugs are easy to learn about and cheap—or free—to buy exploits for. They are often used in broad phishing and malware schemes to target people who have devices with out-of-date software on them.

“But the update might break my software or include new features that I don’t like!”
This is a valid concern. Although it’s a best practice to separate security updates from updates that include new features and other changes, not all vendors and companies do so consistently.

However, if your software needs a security update, it is already broken. A problem has been found, and the update is there to address it. Updating takes you from software that is definitely broken to software that has a lower likelihood of breaking.
By keeping your software up to date at all times, you’re staying on top of your mobile phone security one step ahead of all but the most advanced threats.

Not sure how to update your phone or where to find the update features?
To update your iPhone: this is found under your iPhone’s home screen, and tap the Settings app > General > Software Update. Then, tap Download, and tap Install.

To update your apps on your iPhone: Go to your iPhone’s home screen and tap the App Store app. Then, tap the Updates icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap the Update All button.

To update your Android device: this is often found under your Settings app > About Device > System Updates > Check for Update. Next, tap Download, then tap Install.

To automatically update your apps on your Android device: Go to your Android’s home screen, and open the Google Play Store app. Tap Menu > Settings > Auto-update apps. Then, choose to Auto update apps at any time.