By Martin Edwards

Last updated November 2016

Most of us wish computers were easier to use, more reliable, or capable of more things. To meet these demands, the software available for computers is always evolving.

For all the good it brings, this constant change also creates an endless supply of imperfections, many of which go unnoticed until the software is in widespread use. Some of these imperfections turn out to be vulnerabilities, which means they can be exploited by hackers to break into computers to steal private information, extort money, or perpetrate further crime.

Thankfully, the same evolution that creates these vulnerabilities means they can be fixed, too. Staying current with software updates is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cybercrime.

The Internet has made it easy for vendors to issue updates and for users to install them; indeed, many install automatically. Others require your input, often to provide a password, agree to terms, or restart the software or the computer itself. It is a good idea to know what software is on your computer and how it is updated.

Some updates are more significant than others; these are often called upgrades. An upgrade may have side effects, like preventing other software from working until it too is upgraded, or rendering your computer incompatible with an older printer. While it is still usually advisable to install upgrades, you may want to read about them or seek advice first.

Since newer software tends to require more memory or particular hardware, some updates are released only for more recent or more highly-specified computers. If your computer is too old or not powerful enough for an update, you may be left with reduced security and without newer features. Over time, a computer that cannot be further updated may even become less capable, as the services and devices around it evolve and leave it behind. For these reasons, you may sometimes be advised to replace an ageing computer even if it is not broken.

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