Understanding Smartphone Security Updates and Their Importance

Power, camera quality, and price often take the front seat when purchasing a smartphone. However, an equally crucial factor is the device’s longevity, particularly the duration it will receive updates. This article explores the importance of smartphone security updates, how long various devices receive them, and the potential implications when they cease.

Apple recently released iOS 17, a software update that extends to iPhones as old as the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS – models that debuted in 2018. This ability to provide (mostly) similar software features to five-year-old phones as to the brand-new iPhone 15 is a commendable feat for Apple. However, such future-proofing isn’t a universal standard.

“In the age of digital technology, the security of our devices is as paramount as the device itself.”

How Long Do Various Devices Receive Updates?

As of when writing, Google promises Android updates for its Pixel phones for at least three years. The software update guarantee extends to four years for flagship Samsung Galaxy phones, and for the latest Fairphone 5, it’s five years.

Another critical period to consider is that of security updates. These updates continue to be issued for older phones even after major software updates have ended so that significant vulnerabilities can be patched and phones can be kept safe even if they’re no longer receiving new and improved features. For Google and Samsung, security updates are provided for five years, while Fairphone promises at least eight for the Fairphone 5, possibly extending up to 10 years. Apple doesn’t have a fixed approach but typically offers security updates for a year or two after software updates have concluded. After seven years, Apple products are declared obsolete.

What Happens When Security Updates End?

When security updates cease, your device won’t suddenly become a useless brick. Suppose its internal components are still functional. In that case, you can continue to use the device as usual, though you may notice some issues with your apps over time. Apps often require the latest versions of iOS or Android to run, and without updates, they may malfunction, or you may be unable to upgrade to the latest versions.

Security is a more significant concern. While your phone will have some legacy protection from patches applied over its lifetime, it will no longer be prepared for newer exploits and malware attacks, putting your data at risk. Older operating systems often become targets for mobile security vulnerabilities, as they lack updated defense measures. The longer it has been since the last security update, the higher the risk of using your phone.

Apple, Google, and Samsung often rush to fix security issues as they’re discovered, pushing out updates outside the regular schedule to keep devices protected. However, once your phone reaches its end-of-life stage, it becomes ineligible for these patches, except in rare circumstances.

It is possible to keep using your phone, but it is recommended to be careful with apps and websites. It is also essential to enable two-factor authentication for your accounts and to keep the lock screen locked. However, it should be noted that this increases the risk of your device being attacked. To minimize this risk, it is advisable to consider upgrading your phone to continue receiving updates, even if it may be expensive.

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