Wooden Spoon: Blog

An IT Consultant Using A HUD Display To Examine Data Related To Security Risks

6 Reasons Why Using Old Software and Hardware Could Create a Security Risk

One of your company’s biggest costs may come from updating your software and hardware. Over the years, your hardware starts to work slower and have more and more issues, while software can become outdated or no longer be supported by the developer. However, if your budget is already strained, you may decide to continue using these older tools for a little longer. After all, your team is already trained on using the outdated software, so why take the time to upgrade right away? You can put that off until next year or the year after, right?


While it might save you a little money in the short run, using old software and hardware can create a major security risk. There are many reasons why you need to update software and consider replacing hardware regularly. If you don’t, the risk of a security breach or other problem only increases. There are several reasons legacy software and hardware can lead to security risks.


Software that Isn’t Up to Date is a Security RiskWhen you do not keep your software properly updated you could experience numerous issues


Regardless of what it does, all software can present a security risk. Hackers and malicious programs can find a way to hijack many applications and use them as a way into your system. That’s why developers regularly release software patches. These updates address any found vulnerabilities while also adding functionality or fixing bugs. By not patching software, you’re leaving these vulnerabilities in place. These security holes aren’t secrets, either—typically, they’re announced by the company. That means hackers know they exist and will try to exploit them.


Updates to a piece of software typically end in one of two ways. The first is that the software was completely discontinued. This can be due to poor sales or because there are very few current users. It could also occur because the company that developed the software went out of business. The second reason a piece of software may no longer be updated is that the company put out a newer version. That version is now the one that is supported. Don’t forget that it includes more than just applications, it also includes operating systems, security software, internet browsers, and any other programs you use. Even firmware on routers needs to be updated if security vulnerabilities are found.


Either way, you’ll need to make a decision about this unsupported application. Continuing to use it leaves you with a security risk. Updating to a new version or migrating to a new application will cost money and may require training, but it’s the more responsible and safe option.


Older Software May Not Be Compatible


Another issue with using older software is that it may not be compatible with any new application or hardware you bring in. You may move to a new operating system only to find that your legacy software simply won’t work. Another issue could be updating one piece of software but not any of the other applications that work with it. This could make it nearly impossible to move data between the two applications.


Even if you create some kind of workaround, do you know how secure that workaround is? Have you created potential security holes in two applications? Workarounds are often security risks, especially if your IT team created them without really considering how secure they are. Often, these workarounds aren’t efficient, either. They take more time or require employees to follow extra steps that make things less streamlined.


Custom Software Isn’t Safe, Either


Many companies that are still using older software are doing so because they had that software created just for them. Just because it was custom, however, doesn’t mean that it’s safe. It’s very likely that this unique software hasn’t been updated or is only updated sporadically when you report bugs.


Another issue with custom legacy software is that it was likely created using the coding standards of the time. That means it may not withstand the cyberattacks of today. While it may have been able to easily withstand the unsophisticated hacking attempts of the time, today’s viruses and malicious individuals use more complex methods to gain access to networks. If your old software can’t withstand those, it’s going to present an unacceptable risk.


Plug-Ins Should Be a Concern, Too


Many applications and online tools make use of plug-ins. These are third-party tools that were developed to add new functionality to applications. Some, such as Adobe PDF plug-ins, allow you to save files to other formats. Others, like Microsoft Silverlight, allow you to view interactive media. Your security risk management team needs to know any plug-ins you’re using. That’s because they can have vulnerabilities just like main applications can. In fact, plug-ins are often more vulnerable if they don’t fully integrate into the software they were designed to work with.


Another risk with plug-ins is that they may not always be developed by a company. WordPress, for example, allows users to create their own plug-ins. These may be built by people who are still learning how to develop plug-ins and don’t know how to make them secure. There’s also always the risk of a plug-in not being fully compatible with the application. Always be careful what third-party plug-ins you use and, if possible, don’t use any at all.


Old Hardware Increases the Risk of CrashesOld Hardware and Equipment Tend To Have Numerous Compatibility Issues and Lead To System Crashes


While it may not be a direct security risk, using old hardware does open up the risk of system crashes. The older a hard drive gets, the more likely it is that it will fail. This is especially true if it operates 24 hours a day without any scheduled maintenance. If a piece of hardware goes down, it may not necessarily take your entire network with it. If your main server goes down, one printer crashing may be inconvenient, but it can be more concerning. If you don’t have a backup server, it can bring your business to a halt for the day.


When your main server is down and you switch over to your backup, you could be opening up security risks if the backup server isn’t up to date. It’s easy to forget to update it or do security testing on backup servers because they’re not often used. This is one reason why working with managed IT services can be very beneficial. These experts ensure that everything, regardless of how often it’s used, is properly maintained and updated.


Old hardware also may not be able to run new software. For example, old iPhones cannot run the newest version of iOS. The older versions they run may not be as secure, and there may be issues with networking with those versions of iOS. You may have to leave specific ports open or turn off certain security protocols to incorporate this older hardware, creating more network security risks.


You Are Out of Compliance


Old hardware and software may not comply with the current standards that regulatory organizations require you to meet. For example, older software may not comply with HIPAA. If your business is in the healthcare industry or works with partners that are, this can lead to fines and other penalties. If you were to have a data breach that resulted in patients’ private health information being accessed, your company could end up going out of business from the fallout. Even if you’re not bound by HIPAA, you may need to be in compliance with the various regulations that govern financial institutions, retailers, and other companies that routinely collect individual’s information or deal with proprietary data.


What Can You Do to Address these Security Risks?


The main way to address these risks is to update your software and hardware. That doesn’t mean you need to replace all of your hardware every year or that you always have to update to the newest version of a piece of software as soon as it becomes available. Instead, you need to approach updating in a logical manner. Working with an IT solutions partner is one way of creating a logical, effective plan for ensuring that you’re addressing security risks.


For example, you should always note when you purchase a new piece of hardware. When that hardware reaches a certain age, it’s time to rotate it out of use. For some items, you may get ten years or more of use. For others, you may need to replace the hardware every three or four years. It depends on what it is, how much it’s used, and how vital it is to the company. By doing a controlled replacement, you decide when things go down for maintenance. If you wait for hardware to fail, it may go down in the middle of the day, resulting in lost business.


With software, the most important thing you can do is always ensure you’ve installed the latest patch. The easiest thing is to set all of your software to auto-update. You also need to replace software once it’s no longer supported, either by upgrading to a new version or switching to a different application.


Wooden Spoon Can Handle All of this for You


If all of this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry—Wooden Spoon can handle it all for you. As an experienced Managed IT Services company, we take care of our clients’ hardware, software, security, and more. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with older software and hardware or with other IT services.


Zach Mesel

Zach Mesel

Technology is in Zach’s blood. Zach spent much of his youth in his father’s cardiac research labs, either as a test subject for his father’s research, or playing games with his older brother on mainframe computers. Zach earned his BS in Management Information Systems in 1988 from the University of Arizona, and then worked for IBM in Boulder, Colorado, and Palo Alto, California until 1995. He started Wooden Spoon in 2002.