The Consequences of Ignoring Patches and Updates

A man sitting in front of a laptop is blindfolded with exclamation bubbles around him

Who likes frequent software updates and patches? Ok, maybe no one. That is unless you’re an IT support professional tasked with supporting end users who frequently click off those pesky prompts to keep their PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone compliant. The harsh truth is such technical sins of omission can create costly or damaging consequences for the user and anyone connected to their cyberspace. The increased security risks of avoiding proven security patches and updates is a very real if very overlooked concern. But much of the noticeable fallout, especially for companies implementing a new service desk outsourcing solution, is that call volume increases and associated costs will be unnecessarily high until all assets are updated. If end users habitually ignore prompts and resist updates, problems may eventually reach a critical mass to the point where considerable action will be required for normal function to resume.

Delaying the inevitable wastes time

In an automatic update scenario, updates are installed in the background and merely prompt users to reboot their machines to finalize the process; however, frequently users will defer the reboot window until the end of the day and then merely shut down their machine, effectively negating those updates. In so doing, when the device is eventually powered back on all updates that weren’t allowed to install reattempt this process on an endless cycle because of a broken component. For Windows updates, the error message may say “failure configuring Windows updates. Reverting changes.” Then the user has to contact the service desk or a technician to unselect the updates and start the whole process over again…or continue to defer it. Either way, the more users ignore update prompts, the more pending packets are compiled, extending the process for an even more discouraging length of time. In some cases, dozens of updates are queued up for installation and can take several hours to complete before the user can get back to work. If the number of items remaining to be installed is high enough, users are again tempted to force a shutdown of their laptop rather than wait for the completion even though the process can continue while it’s stowed in its case on the drive home.  Instead, the vicious cycle resumes the next business day.

Loss of compatibility, functionality, and features

While many end users are fine with updating their version of Adobe flash player in order to be able to regain full site access via Internet Explorer or Safari, they’ll refuse to update Excel or PowerPoint even if it means having to do a few extra right clicks to be able to open newer file extensions. As a result, emailing files between colleagues leads to incompatibility issues on both ends. Taking a pass on updates may also mean they are missing out on bug fixes that would have improved performance and eliminated minor annoyances such as frequently closing out recurring error messages. Without updates, users may also be missing out on new application features and taskbar shortcuts that make their job easier.

Security risks

Perpetually opting out of security updates makes any organization more susceptible to viruses, malware, and hacker intrusion. That means retailers that store client transactional data records are at risk of having that data compromised. Healthcare industry providers that store medical records are at risk. Trade secrets, proprietary information, anything on the network that is remotely accessible via an end user’s device is at greater risk as each security update goes uninstalled. Considering the sophistication of malicious crypto attacks that can lock down all files and hold their release for ransom impacting upwards of 700,000 infected users a year.

Even IT managers are not immune to drive by cyber-attacks or security incidents related to casually surfing various websites until a virus laden site exploits a vulnerable entry point in Windows. This can happen without the end user even knowing it.  And once the user is infected it’s not always an easy matter to identify or remove the virus, because it can become embedded in the Windows registry and deleting files. Viruses can infect the firmware of the hard drive, corrupting it to the point that many technicians feel it necessary to install a new one or have it completely reimaged.

“In this day and age of rampant cyber-attacks you cannot take updates for granted,” says ABS’s Manager of IT and Data Analytics Brian Nunziato. “Even though users may complain about the disruption in their day when prompted to install a patch, eventually you have to weigh their personal preference against the much more critical need of preventing a disastrous outbreak in the corporate environment.”

Rather than send your network security engineers into a Disaster Recovery panic where they go running for the hills, it’s probably safer to keep running those patches and updates instead. You’ll save time, money, and a lot of headaches.