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Communications of the ACM


Are Software Updates Useless against Advanced Persistent Threats?

smartphone screen showing 'Update' text and icons

Credit: Shutterstock

A dilemma derived from Shakespeare's Hamlet is increasingly haunting company and security researchers: "to update or not to update, this is the question." From the perspective of recommended common practices by software vendors the answer is unambiguous: You should keep your software up to date.8 But is common sense always good sense? We argue it is not.

Last year in a Communications article,4 Poul-Henning Kamp argued these industry best practices do not seem to work and a more radical reform is needed. In the same year, Massacci et al. recalled the SolarWinds attack was funneled by an update5 and a follow-up article7 indicated the recent protestware attacks are also channeled through updates.


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