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Patching and updating

Software update

Software patches are released by device and software manufacturers to fix flaws in previous versions of software, including cyber security vulnerabilities.

Timely patching is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your computer systems from cyber criminals.


What you need to patch

We are usually rather familiar with patches on our computer systems, including:

  • laptops 
  • desktops
  • smart phones
  • tablets.

However, some other devices that need patching include:

  • modems 
  • routers 
  • wireless access points
  • smart watches 
  • other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which could even include your fridge or healthcare devices.

On a conventional computer, such as one running Windows or Mac OSX, individual software packages also need to be kept up to date. You should pay particular attention to software which interacts with the internet, such as:

  • email clients (Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, etc)
  • web browser (Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc).
  • Adobe Flash
  • PDF readers (Adobe Acrobat, FoxIt Reader, etc)
  • Java.

For other platforms, such as tablets and phones, the deviceís package manager will track updates automatically.

What you need to do

Conventional computers

Almost all software is now released with functionality to automatically check and update itself using the internet.

As an individual, the simplest thing you can do to keep yourself safe is:

  • Turn on automatic updating of software (most software has it turned on by default; don't turn it off).
  • Follow prompts quickly when asked to (such as if your computer asks to shutdown to apply a software update).

Tablets and phones

The package manager (the application which organises all the other software) will automatically notify you when there are updates. Apply these updates as soon as is practical.

Other devices

Unfortunately, the support for automatic updates on devices like routers, modems and wireless access points is highly variable, and, in many cases, you need to update them manually. If updates are manual, then you also need to know to perform the update.

When you get a new network device:

  • find out if it can automatically update itself and, if so, enable that feature
  • find out if it can automatically notify you of updates (even if it canít apply them) and, if so, enable that feature.

If neither of those options is available, visit the device vendorís website and see if you can subscribe to an alert email list to notify you of new versions of software for your device.

If you have to patch a device manually, the device vendor will likely provide instructions on their website. However, it can still seem complex. If you have a tech savvy friend of family member, it is worth asking for their help, certainly on the first attempt.

Linux users and developers

If you are using Linux, make sure you use your package manager to regularly check for and apply updates. Depending on your uptime requirement, a cron job which automatically applies patches is a good idea.

Remember, if you compile your own binaries, your package manager will not keep these up to date. You will need a plan for how to stay informed of updates to components and build these into your binaries in a timely manner.

July 1st, 2018