By Sungard AS
It was discovered last year that many maritime vessels were under significant threat of cyber breaches because they were using outdated software. Tankers were vulnerable to attacks that would potentially target the systems responsible for navigation, propulsion and cargo-related functions. Basically, all the important stuff.
You may be at the helm of a growing business, rather than on the bridge of a seafaring vessel, but relying on aging IT could just as easily sink your corporate ship.
The dangers of legacy IT
Technology doesn't get better with age – just older.
New software and systems can be regularly updated to guard against emerging threats. This is because software developers approach each new version with the aim of increasing security, as well as adding functionality. In contrast, older versions eventually cease to evolve.
Dated applications are substantially more prone to compromise – and the older the software, the riskier it is to use, because it was less likely to have been designed to be resilient to today's increasingly sophisticated forms of attack.
It's not just a matter of less-secure coding – hackers and attackers have had more time to acquaint themselves with software that's been around for years, poke around and discover its vulnerabilities. For example, Adobe Flash is becoming increasingly popular among cyber criminals, who exploit bugs to compromise web users.
In recognition, a number of high-profile tech firms including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla have announced they will phase out support for Flash on their browsers in favor of newer technologies, such as HTML5, to play video.
Obsolescence is a serious risk. You'd be reluctant to fly in an aircraft that was three years outside its maintenance cycle, yet your business may be relying on applications that have reached end of life.
In 2016, the world's third most widely-used desktop operating system was still Windows XP, even though Microsoft stopped writing and distributing security patches for it in 2014. Even Britain's deadliest missile-carrying submarines are still running a variant of Windows XP while protecting the nation's interest at a time of rising nuclear tension.
Aging operating systems and software not only puts a single system at risk, but could put everyone else on your network at risk too. And if an attacker is able to exploit any unpatched or unpatchable holes in your system to make it part of a botnet, then your PC could be an unwitting participant in a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, or sending spam without your knowledge.
Not just software but hardware too.
You may feel it's hard to justify splashing out on new hardware, but older laptops and desktops don't work with many new security updates, and don't support measures such as comprehensive encryption or advanced authentication. Not to mention that hardware over three years old costs significantly more to maintain and can hinder employee productivity.
Newer business-grade PCs increasingly come with sophisticated tools to protect employees and their data from the latest malware attacks in real-time, and some even include capabilities like fingerprint readers for an added layer of biometric security.
But the digitisation of business processes can be both a good and bad thing. Any successful business will find ways to leverage their IT systems and the massive amount of data they collect to drive performance. This is where the Bimodal IT way of thinking comes into play.
The Bimodal IT approach gives companies the flexibility to align IT resources (people, technology, budget) with business and workload requirements. In fact, Bimodal IT helps simplify IT environments.
Change needn't be challenging
A common reason for resisting migration to the most recent and secure technology is, of course, cost. But failure to do so in an age of increasing cyber vulnerability is a false economy. Upgrades can be a significant outlay for growing businesses, particularly the capital expenditure on new hardware that comes with the latest operating systems and security features built in.
Sometimes there's no choice – new software won't run on existing hardware. However, innovative financing models for desktops and laptops can help spread the cost and minimise risk, especially when bundled with support and software licensing.
Most major software vendors publish their support lifecycle and end-of-life policies, so customers are aware of the date at which the product will cease to receive periodic updates such as security patches, or support is gradually phased out. This makes it easier to plan and manage a technology refresh well in advance.
With the trend towards free OS upgrades – for example Microsoft allows Windows 7 and 8.1 to be upgraded to Windows 10 at no cost – adoption of the latest operating systems is not just an opportunity to protect your business but to create a better experience for your employees and innovate your business.