Old phones and upgrades

By | June 8, 2020

Recently, I’ve been looking around for a new phone.  I really like the phone I’ve got at the moment – it’s one of the Motorola G-series phones – but it’s about three years old now, and it’s getting a little bit cranky.

But more importantly Motorola aren’t releasing security updates for it any more.

That’s not necessarily the end of the world, but I use my phone an awful lot, and store a lot of information on it – so I need to make sure it’s properly secure.

So I thought I’d point out a few things about phone and tablet security that you might not all be aware of.  As well as when it’s okay to use an old device, and when it isn’t.

How security updates work on mobile phones and tablets

One of the most important things for keeping your devices safe is to have a secure “operating system” – that’s the software that actually runs your phone or tablet – Android or iOS.  Experts are constantly looking for flaws in these operating systems, and these get “patched” by security updates.

There’s very little an anti-virus app can do to protect you from flaws in the operating system – you really need to install the patch.  But you can’t choose to do that – your phone or tablet manufacturer does it for you through automatic system updates.

There comes a point when your phone or tablet is too old to get the update.  And you might be a bit shocked at how quickly that comes around – particularly if you buy a slightly cheaper model that’s been out for a while.

If you’ve got an iPad or iPhone, it’s pretty straight-forward. As long as your iPhone or iPad is running the latest version of iOS, its security is up to date.  The current version is iOS 13, with iOS 14 coming some time in the autumn.

Apple are pretty good at supporting older phones and iPads.  The rumour is that everything back to the iPhone 6s will be able to run the new iOS 14 when it comes out (that hasn’t been confirmed by Apple yet, though).  By then, that will be a five-year-old model.

Android is a bit more complicated, because all the different manufacturers faff about with it before they put it on your phone.  That means that any fixes Google come up with have to go via the manufacturer.  Google release security fixes for the last three versions of Android – so at the moment, that’s Android 8, 9 and 10.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting security updates if your phone or tablet is using one of those versions.

My old phone, for example, is on Android 8.1 – but Motorola have stopped supporting that model altogether.

How much does it matter?

Now this is a bit of a can-of-worms question.

Security experts would probably string me up for suggesting this – but running out-of-date software on a phone or tablet isn’t necessarily the end of the world.  Especially if you don’t have any credit card details saved on there.

The average phone or tablet owner is not a hacker’s target – the crooks are mostly after businesses who use phones and tablets for work, and who might be keeping valuable information on them.  And it takes more effort to run blanket attacks against phones than against PCs.  But just because you’re not likely to be the target, that doesn’t mean you won’t get hit.

Some people reckon that having an out-of-date operating system is like broadcasting your information to the world.  I’d say it’s more like painting it on the side of your shed and then covering it with a sheet that says “don’t look”.

So (safety first), if your phone or tablet isn’t getting security updates any more, your best bet is to take it off the internet.  And if that makes it pretty much useless for you, you might want to consider replacing it with a newer model.

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