Why are software updates and system maintenance so important?
by Tina Siering
Software update - from the gap to the patch
No software is completely "finished" when it is delivered. On the contrary, continuous software updates are common practice - be it for updating programs, integrating new functions, for improved stability or, of course, to close known security gaps. The last point in particular should also be the focus of attention in companies and organizations. After all, many of the current cyberattacks are aimed at security leaks.
Hackers also keep a constant eye on widely used software solutions such as Windows or Office programs - and actively search for vulnerabilities in the program code. If a vulnerability is detected, malicious programs are optimized for precisely these security gaps. Of course, IT security and manufacturers are not asleep either, but sometimes there is a real race against time so that any gaps that occur can be categorized, analyzed and promptly closed by distributing patches.
Forms of software updates:
- Software updates extend the functions of a program or eliminate errors, is often found as a synonym for software update
- Software upgrades extend a program with completely new functions
- Critical patch updates (Hotfixes) update programs with larger problems or errors
- Bugfixes eliminate technical errors in the source code of the software
- Day-One-Patches correct bugs on the same day the software was released
- Security patches close detected security leaks
Updating the deployed software can then either be done automatically in the background or must be done actively by the user. However, active user action is often an activity that is not considered critical enough, especially for home users and small businesses. Software updates often require a reboot of hardware or software and interrupt the workflow. "Remind me later" is then the answer when software asks for an update. This means that important time for closing security gaps in a timely manner can be lost, with serious consequences:
Neglected patch management due to lack of resources or time opens doors to cybercriminals. Sensitive customer and company data can be leaked, even if a firewall is installed and an antivirus scanner is active. A very recent threat that specifically exploits security vulnerabilities in software is Borat RAT - a new Trojan that can spy on users, tap data and paralyze systems with DDoS attacks. Manufacturers around the world are currently working flat out to develop appropriate patches. So if a software update request appears on your screen soon: Please be sure to follow the instructions and perform the updates!
Why are software updates and system maintenance more important today than ever?
It has never been more important than today to keep the operating system, software used and firewall solutions up to date. A Bitkom study from August 2022 recorded damage of 203 billion euros due to data theft, espionage and sabotage - and that was for Germany alone. By comparison, in 2018/2019, the damage amounted to "only" 103 billion euros. 84% of respondents said they had been affected by cyberattacks in the past year. A further 9% suspect an attack has taken place, with a particular focus on corporate data.
And the risk will increase in the coming years: on the one hand, more and more devices are being interconnected, and on the other, the risk is underestimated by too many decision-makers in business, even though many services are migrating to the cloud. For reasons of cost, but sometimes also due to misjudgements, small and medium-sized enterprises repeatedly fail to adequately secure their IT infrastructure. And then there is the creativity of hackers, who unerringly track down exploits and turn them into money on the darknet.
Actually, one would think that nowadays every user would be aware of the dangers posed by outdated operating systems or software. However, according to the Windows Report 2019, around 55% of all computers and notebooks with Windows operating systems contain outdated software. The problems that arise as a result are manifold:
- Unknown security vulnerabilities or known zero-day gaps exploited by hackers to penetrate systems or networks. Data loss cannot be ruled out
- The system becomes more vulnerable to automatically sent malware, for example Trojans, viruses or spyware
- Outdated software may no longer work if it does not match the architecture of the (modernized) operating system.
- System failures or disruptions
Among the greatest dangers posed by security vulnerabilities in software are undoubtedly ransomware and DDoS attacks. In ransomware attacks, malware is introduced that specifically encrypts folders, files or directly the entire system in exchange for a ransom demand - whereby users are dependent here on the "good will" of the cybercriminals. In many cases where a ransom was paid, the data was not unlocked as expected. DDoS attacks, on the other hand, are brutal. The origin of a DDoS attack often lies in botnets that are under the central control of hackers. Thus, the attackers have a distributed network that is used for the attack. This mass of requests paralyzes entire servers, which can lead to production downtime or the cessation of all business operations.
What are other sensible IT security measures?
In addition to regular security updates, effective IT security should always be understood as a package of measures. After all, IT security can only really be achieved through the interaction of many security measures and solutions: For example, create up-to-date backups of all data, ideally on external media, and ensure network segmentation. Firewalling, endpoint protection and AV products should not be missing as established security solutions. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of a "human firewall" either, because the "human vulnerability" is one of the hackers' favorite entry points. Regular social engineering and security training sensitizes employees to potential threats.
Organizations and companies that manage to successfully fend off cyber attacks at an early stage have also recognized how important the topics of prevention and early attack detection are. With the Active Cyber Defense service (ACD), Allgeier secion offers a solution for active "threat hunting" that involves monitoring all of a company's systems. This allows compromised systems to be detected in good time, isolated in a targeted manner and cleaned up. A very useful addition to the "Managed Detection and Response Service" is optimal preparation for emergencies. A comprehensive incident readiness strategy consisting of detailed guidelines and processes ensures that security incidents are handled appropriately. Allgeier secion's security experts also support companies throughout Germany in the area of IR readiness with customized solutions - around the clock and 365 days a year.
Admittedly, security updates can be a real nuisance. Update requests often appear in the middle of working hours. Accordingly, the notices are often "clicked away", the updates are postponed until later or are forgotten altogether. However, this creates serious security gaps that are exploited by hackers. Espionage, data theft or blackmail are the unpleasant consequences and lead to losses in the billions in Germany alone. Careful patch management is therefore indispensable to close security leaks. However, updating and patching are only a small part of an effective and sustainable IT security strategy.
With Active Cyber Defense as a Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solution and complemented by the IR-Readiness program, Allgeier secion offers tailored, cost-efficient security solutions that also provide small and medium-sized enterprises without their own IT security teams or in-house SIEM with the urgently needed protection against cyber attacks.