Beware the Device Driver Scam

Category: Hardware , Software

A reader asks: “Popups keep appearing on my screen, with warnings like 'Your drivers may be out of date!' I'm not even sure what a driver is, but if everything seems to be working fine, do I really need to update them?” Here's the scoop on device drivers, and when to update them...

The Rankin File

Should You Update Your Device Drivers?

Let's be clear -- those popups are ads, not dire warnings from your computer's operating system. They're pushing software that scans your computer, looking for device drivers that need to be updated. Some of these products are outright scams or malware in disguise. Others are semi-legit, but misleading.

Let's start by defining the term. Device drivers, commonly called just "drivers," are small programs that act as translators between your operating system and the hardware devices it uses. Every hardware device needs a driver. Your printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard, hard drive, graphics card and network adapter are all examples of devices that require a software driver in order to respond to commands from the operating system.

Device Driver Update

For example, when you hit the Print button, Windows issues the generic command "print," and a device driver translates that command into the specific instructions needed by your particular make and model of printer.

Windows comes with a vast library of drivers. When Windows is installed, it scans your computer for attached devices and tries to match them with drivers from its library. Likewise, when you plug a new device into a Windows system, Windows looks for an appropriate driver in its library. If the right driver for a device is not in Windows' library, you will be prompted to supply it (typically, on a CD included with your hardware device).

Install the driver and you're done, right? Well, not always. Hardware makers do issue updated drivers occasionally. Whether you install them or not is up to you.

Do I Really Need This Driver?

If you've determined that you absolutely need to update one or more of your device drivers, I strongly urge you to use System Restore to create a restore point first. Then if anything goes wrong, you can undo the update. It's also a good idea to make a backup of all your device drivers, in case you have a hard drive failure which requires re-installing Windows from scratch.

Most driver updates are performance-enhancers. They may fix minor but irritating glitches in previous versions. Often, these glitches are so minor that they pertain only to particular PC models and do not affect the majority of users.

Sometimes you'll need to update a device driver if you move to a newer operating system. For example, you might have a printer or scanner that worked fine under Windows XP. You upgrade to Windows 7, 8, or 10, and now it doesn't work. A quick trip to the vendor's website should help you find a driver written specifically for that device and operating system. In most cases, you will simply download and run an EXE file to install the new driver, then restart your computer. If that's not the case, look for instructions on the vendor's site.

A few driver updates patch security vulnerabilities that might enable bad guys to infiltrate your computer - if they bothered to take advantage of the vulnerabilities. It's just not worth a hacker's time to write a virus targeting the driver for one of several thousand devices. Beside, security-related driver updates generally find their way automatically onto most users' systems via Windows Update.

Most people don't bother looking for driver updates unless they are having a problem with a hardware device. After all, it isn't broken, why fix it? By the way, Windows Device Manager is not a reliable indicator of whether your drivers are up to date. Device Manager tells you only whether a driver is working, not whether it's the latest and greatest version.

Watch Out For These Driver Update Gotchas

There are many so-called "driver updaters" available online. These programs scan your system's drivers, tell you which ones are out of date, and offer to fetch and install the latest drivers for you. Sounds neat, until you realize there's a fee for all of this. Then you may also realize that you have no way of knowing whether the drivers installed by such services are really the latest drivers, or even if they are malware in disguise.

Don't just Google the name of your device and download a new driver from the first website that pops up. Aside from Windows Update, the only trustworthy source of drivers is the support website of the hardware manufacturer. If you are having an issue with a particular device, look for a more recent driver on the maker's site. But updating drivers just for the sake of "keeping current" is not worth the effort.

Do you have something to say about device drivers? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Beware the Device Driver Scam"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Mike Brose
03 Sep 2015

Maybe recommending a popup blocker or ad blocker or both would be a good choice.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

I serve as PC support for my family and friends, and if I had a nickel for every time I had to fix a PC because somebody "clicked on" one of these scams, I'd be rich enough to retire. Blindly trust nothing on the interwebz.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Thanks Bob for another great subject. I have been plagued with this for a while and just ignore them. Thanks again. Mike

Posted by:

Jerry C
03 Sep 2015

The only driver I update is the NVIDIA video drivers. Iff (if and only if) you play games having the latest video driver is very important. Every once in a while I check the mother board (manufacturer website only) to see if there are updates there, and get them. The new BIOS ... only if it fixes a problem YOU have. That one can easily brick your motherboard and should only be done IF you know what you are doing AND the computer is on a UPS. Audio drivers will probably never need updates, they have been pretty much the same forever.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Although the comments seem to be uniformly negative, I find the free versions of reputable driver tools useful. I would never use any automatic method to keep drivers updated(!), but the better free tools tell me what is available and even where to find them for possible manual downloading. These reports are very useful to glance at every few weeks or so - perhaps worth overlooking the entreaties to upgrade to the premium versions.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

I fell for the update scam and ended up with a Blue Screen Of Death which required going back a previous OS version to recover use of my PC. I've avoided that offer to update ever since!

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

I use AdBlock Plus in Firefox, which has the Pop-up blocker, so I don't encounter these. BUT I recently became so annoyed with AVG that I disabled it, and now need to put in a replacement. AVG was daily or more often sending messages advising that this or that should be done, all leading to their pitch for an upgrade to the paid product. And OBTW there's been yet another change to their software and the computer has to be Restarted with that install. A bit off topic perhaps, but also relates back to your recent post AVG and the other anti-virus software.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Learned, years ago -- NOT to click on anything, that pops up on the Internet!!!

I learned to use reliable means, to "update" any of my driver devices. I usually, registered my devices and I would get "update" notices, from the manufacturer. How often, did I get these notifications? Rarely.

I do get notifications from Logitech, for my keyboard and mouse for "upgrades" for their Set Point program. When, I had a NVIDIA graphic card, I would get regular "upgrade" notifications and would utilize the upgrades. Now, that is just about it. I don't recall getting any notifications for my printer, but, on extremely rare occasions.

In all honesty, there are only a few drivers for devices, on any PC or Mac ... The Graphic Card, the Printer and the Keyboard/Mouse drivers. If, you purchased a Brand Name Computer, they will notify you, of any issues with their Motherboard, Cards and Keyboard/Mouse drivers. Rarely, does anyone need to update the BIOS! In fact, even as I am vastly experienced with computers, only once did I have to update a BIOS and that came from a notification from the Motherboard manufacturer.

Yes, DO use Pop-Up Blockers and Ad-Blockers when surfing the Web. O:-)

Posted by:

Terry Hollett
03 Sep 2015

I usually avoid driver updates but after 3 years my Windows 7 desktop started acting up and there didn't seem to be any reason why. I was thinking a system restore from an image backup but came across an article about a program called Slimdrivers. Tried it and updated my drivers and so far so good. It's a free program that seems to get drivers directly from the source. It does try to install a cleaner program if you don't uncheck it. After all my drivers where updated I also disabled the auto startup option. Just my two cents worth.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

I have been lucky with this, but being a now retired IT guy I have cleaned up more than one computer that was a total mess.

If anyone does, however, want to use an automatic driver check, I recommend IO Bit's Driver Booster.

I was able to obtain some older drivers for a motherboard I was setting up. The manufacturer no longer had the drivers listed, but this program (both free and pay) was able to find them and installed them.

I did not configure the program to run automatically at startup. Why? It's not like drivers are updated daily.

I also went for the free version, the only difference I could see is it downloads slower. Who cares...

Anyway, I hope this is helpful and Bob I enjoy your newsletters and have passed on the link to my friends. :)

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
03 Sep 2015

Thanks Bob, for what turned out to be usable info
for me.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Would have liked to have seen "the other side of the coin"... it is the printer/scanner/peripherals manufacturers whose interest is Selling New Equipment, NOT updating drivers. I bought a great b&w laser printer in 1995... worked great... until I upgraded to XP... and no driver from the manufacturer... but I could buy another of their laser printers that would work with XP! (Was it cosmetic tweaks with an upgraded driver?) I parked the printer until one day, years later, some Italian blessed programmer re-wrote the Driver for my printer, and viola! my "old" parked printer was back in service! That was fine until we got to the numbered Windoze and in Win7, no bananas! This old lady has a Serial Port so I got a Serial-to-USB cable and ... unless I tried to struggle with "In XP Mode", no printer. Again parked but one day some clever programmer re-wrote the driver for the printer to work on Win 7, 8 and 8.1!! Imagine my delight! So now I can still use this 20 year old printer with all of its advantages! Easy to refill the cartridge with most any toner, brush off the drum every year or so, make sure that the Serial/USB cable is working right and those

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

When I upgraded to Win 10 I had to get drivers for my printer and scanner, both HP. A quick visit to their website and some looking and I was good to go.
I tried one of those driver updaters back when I ran XP and it told me ALL of my drivers needed updating. Yeah, right!

Posted by:

David Hickman
04 Sep 2015

I have a Toshiba Satellite Pro C650 and I upgraded from Win 7 Home Premium to Won 10. The web cam stopped working and the OS told me there was no driver installed. I could find nothing on Toshiba's sites for this part of the world (New Zealand) so I phoned their help desk. Toshiba says my model can not be upgraded to Win 10 and I need to roll back to 7. I told Toshiba that I had bought about 10 of their laptops over the last few years and that I will never buy another Toshiba product. We have a couple of tablets with web cams so it is no big deal but I am really annoyed that Toshiba is too lazy to support their customers.

Posted by:

04 Sep 2015

Bob, I'd think a fitting end to your article would have been listing some of the driver update programs you have found to be safe and worthwile.

Posted by:

04 Sep 2015

I used the Iobit Drive Booster and my computer has had crashes daily.I uninstalled Iobit and reinstalled windows but i still have the problem.

Posted by:

04 Sep 2015

Olamoree, I'm with you. My old workhorse MS mouse that came with my Win 3.1 computer still worked great even after all the newer ones gave up the ghost; I had get a cable adapter to go from PS to USB, but no prob. And supported driver on the next version of Windows. It still sits on my desk as reminder of when electronics were not considered to be "Kleenex."

BTW...I've had "driver updates" suggested by several utility programs and inevitably they wonked up my system and required a restore. Often, the newer drivers aren't really for your (old) component or device, but the utilities somehow can't figure that out.

Best bets? Go to your computer manufacturer's site first for in-computer components, if everything is OEM. Secondly, go to the component or device manufacturer's site. And only if something doesn't seem to be working correctly.

Posted by:

Bill Donovan
04 Sep 2015

What about the IObit software = driver update. Is that good? I use it all the time. what do you think?

Posted by:

04 Sep 2015

In January 2014 I kept seeing ads for Driver Update that included the words "Microsoft" and "recommended." I was very suspicious...until one day I saw it appear on a site that I trusted. Big bad mistake. I figured that if it were on that particular site, it must be OK. There were hidden programs as well. The so-called driver update has caused some of my programs to flicker and flash. I've managed to get most of the crap off partly through the service contract with my computer manufacturer as well as my own meager knowledge and some help from some other tech-type folks. I learned that just because an ad appears somewhere does not mean that the place where it was advertised is not guaranteeing it. Let the buyer beware. Not gonna be twice burned. Once was too much. Now if I think of updating a driver, I go to the website of the manufacturer only.

Posted by:

04 Sep 2015

Thanks for a great article Bob.I see a lot of these pop up adds lately on a lot of reputable sites, so it is easy to see how people can get scammed by these pop ups just by the site they appear on but a pup is a pup and by ignoring them they won't go away but they won't do you any harm either. thanks for a great article.

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