Computer users are familiar with notifications that appear and prompt installation of updates. While users may be tempted to ignore these messages, especially during busy times, software upgrades are important and should not be underestimated. These prompts signal continuing support provided by software developers for software products, which can be critical to ongoing security of software as well as data and network systems.
Perhaps no recent example better illustrates the threat of state-supported hacking than the 2021 Hafnium data breach of on-premises Microsoft Exchange Servers. The wave of attacks was instigated by Chinese state-sponsored hacking group Hafnium that gave criminals access to user email addresses and passwords, endowed administrator privileges on affected servers, and opened access to devices connected to the server. Since March 2021, Microsoft has released a series of updates to patch the vulnerabilities exploited by the attackers. The updates mitigated the issue in about 92% of Exchange servers but could not retroactively eliminate backdoors already installed on compromised machines.
While Microsoft was unable to completely eliminate the problem, the incident highlights protections that developer support offers. Without the software updates provided by Microsoft, the Hafnium exploit would have become even more widespread and likely compromised nearly all Microsoft Exchange servers. In more general terms, some key functions played by software updates are provided for review as follows.
1. Patch security vulnerabilities
The first and perhaps most important function of software updates is to plug holes in the security systems of software products. Hackers identify and exploit security flaws in software – what are known as software vulnerabilities – using malware. Part of the insidious nature of malware is that it can easily be propagated, often through innocuous actions such as users visiting certain websites. Updates aim to address and correct vulnerabilities exploited by malware. Regular software updates enable developers and users to remain a step ahead of the most widespread malware threats.
Many software programs have an end-of-life date, after which developers no longer provide security patches and support. Microsoft products, like Windows 7, Office 2010, Office 2016 for Mac, Windows Server 2008, Exchange 2010, and versions of SQL Server 2010 are no longer supported. Upgrading to the most recent versions, such as Windows 10 in place of Windows 7, gives users access to security updates that correct vulnerabilities and fend off the latest threats.
2. Protect data and maintain business continuity
Valuable data and files are held on employee devices, such as laptops and mobile phones, as well as corporate networks. When software vulnerabilities are exploited by malware, employer and employee information is compromised, potentially falling into the hands of actors with ill intent who can use it to blackmail, steal, or enact further crimes. Updating software is critical to protect data and systems while helping to prevent businesses from experiencing extensive downtime, data loss, and other financial repercussions resulting from a major security incident.
3. Offer new features that can increase efficiency
Updates can enhance software’s ability to perform, or provide entirely new features and capabilities. Continuing to use Office 2010, for instance, can put businesses at a disadvantage because it is incredibly inefficient compared to current options. By migrating to Microsoft 365, businesses utilize an online version of Office applications that enable employees to collaborate on documents from anywhere with an Internet connection and integrate systems with other platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
Utilizing unsupported software often means managing multiple versions and editions of the same family of applications, which results in additional concern across the network. Unsupported installations create an increased support burden for help desk staff and additional work for software developers. Security risks are inherently associated with unsupported software due to unpatched versions being deployed. Licensing rules often apply differently across various versions and editions.
Software updates can provide greater stability by reducing the risk of crashing or improve performance through greater processing speed. These enhancements can improve productivity and reduce computer maintenance requirements.
4. Save money to update in the long run
Finally, utilizing supported software yields greater financial gain in the long term. Not only can potentially disastrous and costly security breaches be prevented, but software that receives regular incremental updates remains relevant and useful over a long period. In contrast, relying on unsupported software reduces business competitive advantage in the marketplace.
When it comes to software, maintaining the latest updates and upgrades is crucial to improved business productivity and profitability. Contact Roebuck Technologies for an easy, systematic process to ensure all company devices are up to date at all times.