Q: I am frustrated with the frequency of updates on my Windows PC, iPad, and Samsung phone. Do I really have to apply every update every time or can I wait until the bigger updates come out?
A: This is a completely reasonable question, and the basic answer is based entirely on risk aversion. Most updates are related to security, fixes, and changes that prevent malicious hackers from getting into your device and stealing data or worse.
As SFPD Inspector Callahan (Clint Eastwood) so memorably says, it puts us in the position of the criminal in the movie Dirty Harry.
If you only use the same half-dozen apps like Gmail, Twitter, and Instagram, chances are you’ll avoid most online threats and stay safe even if you only apply updates every few weeks.
But if you open attachments from friends, click the occasional link in spam, download games and utilities from many websites, and generally wander around the shady areas of the Internet, well, you’re not safe.
Update? Yes, you may have.
The problem is that software has become incredibly complex, so the likelihood of security issues has increased, even with comprehensive testing. For example, Windows 11 is estimated to contain over 50 million lines of source code, and Android 13 is estimated to have around 12 million lines of code. Now imagine that you are responsible for making sure there are zero bugs, errors, or glitches in the code, which could give hackers an entry point. It is not very easy.
Some updates are a big deal though. If you’re still running Windows XP on your old PC that “always works”, you’re at risk of malware, spyware, and ransomware because Microsoft has stopped supporting the OS. This means that even if there are identified security issues, the company will not release patches or updates. If you are online, XP is no longer a secure operating system.
But on the contrary, there are some updates that cannot be delayed, especially if it is an update related to the introduction of a new device by the manufacturer. For example, Apple may introduce a new line of iPhones and update all other systems to support the device now. Can you postpone if you are not buying? Yes.
Still, I recommend you try to be as up-to-date as possible, even if you spend a few minutes every few days saving, updating, restarting, and recovering everything. Avoiding malware problems is worth the hassle.
Dave Taylor has been involved with the online world since the dawn of the Internet. He runs the popular tech Q&A site AskDaveTaylor.com and you can find his fun gadget reviews on YouTube. Chat with him on Twitter as @DaveTaylor.