The basics
Ū tonu ki ō whakahounga

Keep up with your updates

Keeping your software and devices updated is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can protect yourself online.

View transcript

If you’re looking for an easy win when it comes to protecting yourself from a cyber attack, keeping your software updated is it. These updates aren’t always about adding new features, or fixing broken ones. Sometimes, updates are focused around maintaining the integrity and security of your device and all the data held within it.

Yep. Software developers sometimes spot weaknesses in their code, weaknesses that could very well leave your devices vulnerable to a cyber attack. The developers then quickly rectify the issue, and release a new version of their software to a platform like the app store. Seconds later ‘do do’ you’ll receive that little naggy notification that says an update is due.

Now, it’s time we change our perspective on this notification. Yes, it often comes when we’re in the middle of something. And yes, sometimes it asks us to shut our whole device down as part of the process, as if we have all the time in the world. But that little notification could mean the difference between a normal hum drum day and a cyber attack or data leak. Click that remind me later button and do so at your own risk. The sooner your system is updated, the less time an attacker has to find that weak spot in the code.

If your device lets you automatically update software, when a new version is released, you’re in the safest position there is. This gives you complete piece of mind and one less thing to add to your remember to do list.

Don’t forget - these same recommendations apply to your phone which is just a small mobile computer. An equal amount of effort should be put into keeping your mobile secure. This could involve deleting apps you don’t use and reviewing the permissions of the ones you do use. For example, not every single app on your phone needs access to things like messages, photos, and contacts. Think carefully about which ones you trust with which information.

*phone buzzes* Oop! Haha look at that - Software update time! I mean, I’m kind of in the middle of something, but… I guess a cuppa wouldn’t hurt.

Why it matters

We see messages about updates on our devices all the time, particularly on our phones. Sometimes it’s because new features – like a new set of emojis – are being released. Other times it’s because there are ‘bugs’ in the code that need to be fixed. 

No matter the reason, it’s important to install updates when you see they’re available. Software updates aren’t just about adding new features or fixing bugs. They’re also about fixing weaknesses, or ‘vulnerabilities’, in a system.

The risks

Vulnerabilities are flaws in an or software that mean it could be used for purposes other than those intended. It’s these vulnerabilities that can give attackers a way to gain access to your devices and your personal information.

When vulnerabilities are identified, the developers will quickly change the code to resolve the issue and send it to your device as a software update, often through your app store. If you don't install  updates as they become available, you could be leaving your device at risk of attack.

How to protect yourself

  • Don’t ignore updates

    Timing is important when it comes to updates — the sooner your system is updated, the less time an attacker has to find and use these weaknesses for their own gain.

    Install any updates you’re alerted to as soon as possible. Even better, turn on 'auto-update' so you don’t have to worry about it. You’ll find the option to turn on auto updates in your device settings.

  • Check your apps

    It’s easy to forget that our phones are actually just little computers. We need to put the same effort into protecting what’s on them as we put into protecting our laptops and other devices.

    While you’re updating your phone (or setting it to auto update), check the permissions and settings on your apps too. Make sure they don’t have access to any features that you’re not comfortable with. You might want Instagram to access your photo library, for example, but your weather app probably doesn’t need to.

  • Check what else might need an update

    Remember to check for updates for other, less obvious devices you may have around your home – like printers, heat pumps, wireless speakers and garage door openers. These are all examples of ‘smart’ appliances which can be controlled remotely, often through a mobile app. It’s important to check for, and install, updates for these devices too.

    Using the Internet of Things