I often hear the question, “Why fix what isn’t broken?” This is usually asked after I run computer updates and patches in general. I know that I was raised on this same ideology: a working machine doesn’t require intervention. However, this has changed with the ever-fluid nature of computers, servers, and the lines of code that make them tick.
When a computer asks me if I would like to run updates, the answer is yes. Very rarely do I have reason to deny an update, and generally it’s a well thought-out reason, proceeded by a lot of troubleshooting. Otherwise, patches, or updates, are an essential part to the development process of operating systems such as Windows 10, MacOS, and Linux distributions. Without the patches, these operating systems would be far more vulnerable to cybercrime and far less stable.
Windows 10, for example, has approximately 50 million lines of code in just the operating system. To put that into a more common view, if Windows 10 was a book it would have approximately 2 million pages assuming an average of 25 lines per page. One error in any of those lines of code could lead to instability causing crashes, or worse, security vulnerabilities. With so many moving parts maintenance, optimization, and expansion of the software needs to happen, and this is accomplished by releasing patches.
As with any economy, supply and demand eventually balances out, and the security field is no exception. With an increasing presence of electronic devices in an individual’s life, the expansion of the “Cloud”, and a large presence of internet connected devices commonly known as the “Internet of Things” we are seeing an increase in ways to be breached. There are also resources hosted for legitimate security professionals such as penetration testers, analysts, and developers that can be subverted with malicious intent.
These people spend their days actively searching for exploits and monetize them- for both good and bad, by either warning the software creators, or selling their exploits online to fellow cybercriminals.
Patching is not only about security though, it’s also about stability. With so many moving parts, it’s bound to be that one program demands resources that another program is using. Generally, this can be handled respectfully and both programs get the resources they need. Sometimes though, due to programming, a program refuses to release data, or it squats on a storage space without moving. This can lead to the opposing program to crash or throw an error code on your screen.
Again, patches come to our rescue and can allow the software to work together in a civilized manner. Now the question is, where do I get patches from? It varies from software to software and operating system to operating system to be honest. Windows, the most common operating system in the work place, can be updated & patched through Windows Updates. Android and iOS phones generally send their updates to your devices automatically. Software on the other hand generally needs to be given permission to update or allowed to update automatically without bothering for human guidance.
At the end of the day, an unpatched system can lead to an unstable, unreliable, and vulnerable computer. With the growth of Information Technology in every aspect of our life, each device must work in conjunction with an ever-expanding list of devices to provide services we’ve come to expect. Without patching, our devices would rapidly fall out of use due to incompatibility alone.