Upgrading applications when prompted may seem like a no-brainer, but joint research funded by Microsoft’s Skype, security vendor Symantec and GPS maker TomTom released on Monday found that nearly half of Americans polled don’t bother.
International Technology Upgrade Week
Granted, the findings (see below for Infographic)justify “International Technology Upgrade Week” (happening now, who knew?), during which the members will provide “helpful content about the benefits of upgrading”. Still, the survey, sent to a representative sample of the 350,000 members who participate in YouGov surveys, found that 42% of Americans don’t bother upgrading their software. That number dropped slightly abroad - 41% in the U.K. and 37% in Germany - where presumably more folks understandd the benefits of doing so.
The survey - with more than 5,000 total respondents - found that while three quarters of adults received notifications on their computers telling them to update their software, more than half said they needed to see a prompt between two and five times before downloading and installing an update, Skype said.
Most software upgrades are released in the form of patches, fixing vulnerabilities. Others tweak the code to add additional features or modify other elements of the software.
The survey found that those who did upgrade at least understood the security implications of their choice: 76% of those surveyed said that they upgraded to keep their computer secure against malware and hackers, and 67% said they chose to upgrade to eliminate bugs. Only 47% said they did so to add new features and capabilities.
“Only by regularly upgrading are consumers able to enjoy the benefits of improved voice and video calling quality, longer mobile battery life and bug fixes, in addition to new features that we regularly add across our product portfolio,” said Linda Summers, director of product marketing at Skype, in a statement.
Fear Of Upgrades
So why in the world would users not upgrade? Ironically, the reason is once again: security. Almost half (45%) of those who responded worried that the upgrade would introduce new vulnerabilities, or else they didn’t trust the patch itself. In fact, unfamiliar software update alerts are often mistaken for malware threats.
The remainder of the reasons not to upgrade seem related to ignorance or inconvenience: 27% said upgrades take too long to do, 25% didn’t see a benefit, 26% didn’t know what the upgrades would do, and so on. In the latter category, at least, the mobile market appears to have an advantage, with both Apple and Google publishing details of what the upgrades accomplish before the users download the patch.
From Symantec’s standpoint, upgrades are both routine and essential. The maker of Norton security software said that it blocked more than 5.5 billion malicious attacks in 2011, an increase of 81% over the previous year. Signature-based anti-malware packages download updates at least once daily, and sometimes even more frequently than that.
There Have Been Problems
Marian Merritt, a Norton Internet safety advocate with Symantec Corporation, said that consumers do and should update their software, to mitigate the effects of malware and keep them from spreading.
But Merritt also acknowledged that those users who resist downloading updates have a case, too. “There have been some conflicts,” with drivers, for example, she said. “People have some trepidation about being first.”
Rarely does a patch actually remove functionality or harm the user, although it does happen occassionally.
The best course of action, Merritt recommended, is for users to make sure they know what’s in the patch “and make a good informed choice” before downloading.
Prompts are important, the survey revealed, because About a quarter of respondents reported that they didn’t know how to check if their software needed an upgrade. And - if it matters - men apparently will upgrade more frequently than women after prompting, the study found.