Expert Advice: How to Tell the Difference Between Real and Fake Software Updates


October 24, 2022

You’re probably aware that you need to be extra vigilant when opening emails and text messages, especially if you’re asked to click any links. Unfortunately, hackers are growing more devious by the day, working out ingenious ways to make their attacks appear perfectly legitimate. 

In one of the most alarming examples, IT management software provider Kaseya was hacked, allowing cybercriminals to send out a malicious software update that came directly from the provider itself. Rather than upgrading users’ systems, this “update” downloaded ransomware that encrypted their devices. 

Working with an enterprise-level Managed Service Provider is an excellent way to place a protective barrier between your business and such attacks. However, no measure is 100% foolproof, and there’s always the matter of your personal devices to consider. This means your best course of action is to bolster your cybersecurity measures with ongoing education about the latest threats and how to spot them. To support you in this endeavour, we’ve compiled the following list of red flags to look out for whenever you’re prompted to accept a software update.  

Red Flag 1: The update alert popped up in your internet browser

Most websites now feature a range of pop-ups, including requests for you to accept cookies, disable your ad blocker, or sign up for some newsletter or other. When we’re busy, stressed, or annoyed at the endless stream of interruptions, it’s easy to slip into autopilot and click “OK” just to get the pop-up windows to go away. Unfortunately, this can have devastating consequences. 

If you happen upon a page bearing malware or a keylogger disguised as a “software update,” clicking “OK” may put your system at risk. So, as annoying as it may be, it’s crucial to read every pop-up window. It’s also important to note that neither your software nor your operating system will use a browser-based pop-up window to instruct you to accept an update.  

Red Flag 2: The update request arrived via email or SMS

It’s highly unlikely that a genuine software provider will send you an email or text message when an update is available. Instead, they will notify you within the system itself. So, if you receive an email or message with a link or download purporting to be an important update, don’t click on anything. 

Instead, check the following elements of the message:

  • Excessive urgency – This is a common sales tactic that’s also used by hackers. If you’re feeling pressured to act before you have time to think, take a breath and examine the other elements on this list
  • The from address – Here, you want to look at the email address contained within the <chevrons>. For example, a recently circulated phishing scam claimed to be from “Westpac Banking” but the address within the chevrons was <[email protected]>
  • The time and date – If the update request came through at 3 am, this is suspicious as most legitimate communications will arrive during business hours
  • Misspellings and grammatical errors – These are rarely found in professional emails from software providers
  • Attempts to trigger fear, greed, or curiosity – This may come in the form of claims that your system is in peril or that you’ve won an iPhone or something equally tempting 
  • Requests for personal information – It’s rare for a software provider to ask you to provide sensitive data via a link in an email

While these red flags don’t necessarily prove that an email is malicious, they are good indicators. So if you spot any of them, it’s best to avoid clicking anything in the message. Instead, use your preferred search engine to go directly to the company’s official website and use their communication channels to get in contact. Or for an even easier fix, get in contact with your IT support team for assistance. 

Red Flag 3: You see a pop-up offering a plug-in for software you use

Plug-ins certainly are a legitimate way to personalise and improve your software experience. However, you should always access them via the developer’s official website. No matter how helpful a plug-in appears, you should never download it from a pop-up window.  

Red Flag 4: You don’t already use the software in question

This attack vector generally relates to antivirus software, and it will most likely pop up in your web browser. It warns you that your device is at risk and asks that you update your current antivirus software or download new software. If you’ve never encountered one of these pop-ups before, it can be alarming. And when you’re caught off guard by a scary message, it’s easy to make a silly mistake. 

If you want to avoid the nasty consequences of a momentary lapse of judgment, get in the habit of pausing to think whenever you receive a message that’s trying to drive fear or urgency. Instead of taking the bait, this is the time to contact your Managed Service Provider or in-house IT team for advice. 

Red Flag 5: Something just doesn’t feel right

If you have a funny feeling about a software update, there’s no harm in contacting the software provider or your MSP before proceeding. This may help you avoid falling victim to new threats or more devious attacks like the Kaseya supply chain hack mentioned in the introduction. 

In general, maintaining good communication with your IT support team is a powerful way to avoid falling victim to hacking attempts. MSPs like Invotec offer 24/7 support, meaning you can always feel comfortable making a quick call to confirm things like software updates. This may be the difference between evading cybercriminals and falling victim to them. 

While there’s no need to be paranoid about malicious software updates, it does pay to keep the above red flags in mind. If you’d like to improve your overall cybersecurity and add some extra protective layers around your company’s data and digital assets, contact Invotec today. Our fully certified IT experts are always on hand to offer support and guidance. 

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