Cold Comfort: Outdated Software Puts Companies in the Hot Seat

June 7, 2017 @ 11:31 AM
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2 min read

Software is critical for corporate success. From day-to-day decision-making to mission-critical tasks, the right apps and software make all the difference. So it’s no surprise that many companies value familiarity over features and prioritize streamlined use over security.

As a result, Infosecurity Magazine noted an increasing number of businesses are running outdated software and putting enterprise assets at risk.

Familiarity With Outdated Software Breeds Compromise

The comfort of using familiar software makes sense, since brand new versions of deployed apps are often buggy or create unexpected performance issues. And with IT already struggling to keep up with security and big data demands, there’s something to be said for leaning on the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage and continuing with business as usual until an emergent risk forces C-suite action.

The problem is that new ransomware such as WannaCry makes it clear that older versions of software still in use, such as Windows 7 and XP, put companies in the hot seat. Not only were both vulnerable to the attack, but Windows 7 support is only available as part of a paid service extension, and Windows XP is no longer supported.

Consider the real-world implications: According to The Independent, Britain’s fleet of nuclear subs could be running XP-based software. This same software made the National Health Service (NHS) vulnerable to WannaCry, which at one point impacted 20 percent of all NHS branches.

The Los Angeles Times added that the speed and impact of WannaCry could spark lawsuits against companies who failed to adequately protect their systems and put consumer or stakeholder data at risk. Companies face the prospect of resecuring systems and accounting for data after the latest ransomware attack. They are also required to compensate victims — all because they preferred the familiarity of outdated software to the security of newer versions.

Underwhelming Updates

New research from Duo Security examined more than 4.6 million endpoints worldwide to get a sense of where companies were updating correctly and where they preferred familiar software to new offerings.

The numbers aren’t promising. For example, just 31 percent of North American endpoints now run Windows 10, although installations of Microsoft’s newest OS have doubled since last year. More worrisome, the number of XP endpoints in health care actually increased from 2 percent to 3 percent, putting companies at risk of both malware infections and HIPAA noncompliance. Threatpost also noted that 53 percent of endpoints running Flash use outdated versions despite large scale attacks on previous iterations in recent years.

Even mobile software adoption poses problems: While 73 percent of iPhones are running the latest version of iOS, just 27 percent of Androids are up to date. This makes sense given the huge variety in Android handsets and device-makers on the market, but reasonable explanation does nothing to protect out-of-date OS endpoints.

Outdated software is often easier to manage in a complex corporate ecosystem than installing new upgrades and dealing with potential IT fallout. But ignoring new versions in favor of familiarity is cold comfort. Outdated Apps and OS versions now put companies on the hot seat for legal challenges, compliance failures and ransomware infections.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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