used with permission from Norton by Symantec
by Marian Merritt

If you were to think of software like you would a houseplant, maybe it would be more natural to keep it patched and up-to-date. To take care of your plant, you’re supposed to water it, turn it in the sun for it to grow evenly and occasionally mist the plant’s leaves or add fertilizer. And when I say “software,” I don’t just mean security software, which most users understand will only keep you safe when it has the latest protection files. No, all software is, by its very nature, imperfect. Software is almost like a living thing. Program code is written by one person, the Developer, and then tested by another person in Quality Assurance. And later, after the software is in the hands of the user, it may need updates to add support for newly introduced operating systems. An updated version of the software may have new features or fixes to bugs missed in earlier versions. One way to deliver fixes and updates is to issue a software patch. If software were a houseplant, patches would be the ongoing care and feeding you provide; the water, sunlight and other treatments.

Failing to patch your software can lead to real problems. It may prevent you from fully upgrading your operating system; you may not be able to complete tasks like printing a file, or you may be at risk of a security exploit that is now in the hands of the cybercriminal community. I completely understand the temptation to put off applying a new patch, but I can’t fathom ignoring patching totally. That’s just dangerous and foolish.

Every program you use to access the internet needs to be maintained. Your browser, the programs that run videos and animations, even browser plug-ins need to be kept up-to-date. Often your program will prompt you to take action with a pop-up from the icon on your system tray. Never ignore those messages. It’s usually ok to wait until a convenient moment since often a patch will require you to reboot your system. And it’s 100% ok to double-check the authenticity of the needed patch with a visit to the manufacturer’s website. Just don’t wait more than a day or two to install the patch. And if you read a news story about a new vulnerability in a program you use (or think you might use), take action straight away.