What Are The Security Issues from Using an Unsupported Operating System?

February 21, 2023

Using an OS That Isn’t Supported? Disaster May Lie Ahead

Running a web server without help from the company that makes the operating system is dangerous and can cause downtime. These are some of the biggest security issues from using an unsupported operating system:

Unpatched vulnerabilities: Without regular security updates, a web server is more and more likely to be attacked in new ways. There will be new holes, but the OS vendor won’t release any new patches to fix them. The server will get hacked sooner or later, which will make users upset and cause customers to look elsewhere.

Rising costs for maintenance, staffing, and technical debt. Software maintenance expenses often go down as a device nears its end of life (when most users sell off outdated storage arrays or phone systems) and go up (sometimes dramatically) afterward (when fixes, patches, and updates are no longer available.). Staffing costs quickly rise in legacy operating systems because it becomes harder to find people with specialized skills to run and maintain an aging legacy system. This can lead to paying astronomical salaries for employees with out-of-date and unique skill sets, or incurring additional costs to train new employees on the legacy platform, which can have a trickle-down effect on the employees as they spend time learning obsolete technology. Technical debt costs are the costs of doing nothing, basically. In this case, letting the entire staff skill set deteriorate over time leads to an accumulation of technical debt which is the opposite of the cost of keeping a staff competent in the operations of a legacy system. Companies might also pay experts to temporarily fill in for the lacking abilities, but this would be a costly alternative to training current employees. In the worst situation, internal resources may be exhausted trying to address skill gaps, delaying the need to recruit new employees.

Losing customer data. The security issues from using an unsupported operating system put not only your data at risk, but also the data of your customers. If you handle sensitive information or personal data in your business, like medical records and credit card numbers, a breach can be very expensive for your company, and you may even be held legally responsible for any damages that happen as a result. Even if your data is not stolen, you could still lose it. IT hardware and software that isn’t supported could also stop working without warning, and it might not be possible to get the data back if that happens.

Unknown vulnerabilities: When an OS is no longer supported, its maker has little reason to look into and report vulnerabilities when they are brought to its attention. This means that there are security holes that administrators don’t know about. Even though admins may not know about them, hackers often share and sell them on the dark web.

Compatibility issues: Third-party programs that run on an OS that isn’t supported probably aren’t supported either, since their makers only test them on the latest OS. The way third-party apps work can get worse over time, and they can even stop working all together. This means that users have to deal with applications that run slowly or don’t work at all.

We can’t speak enough about how important it is to keep infrastructures up-to-date, deploy patches across the whole company, and stay on top of any new or possible system vulnerabilities. You’ve probably heard a lot about these best practices, but they’re not always put into action. And, of course, you can’t fully protect your business if you’re running old systems or using apps that aren’t supported.

For many businesses, the idea of a large-scale plan for digitizing and modernizing older systems can be scary. In this hard economic time, it is especially easy to find reasons not to update. Some companies have even thought about putting less money into developing digital technologies. But this could be a very expensive mistake, especially if it means trying to overcome the security issues from using an unsupported operating system.

Applications and systems that aren’t supported pose a risk that can’t be avoided: critical security patches or updates can’t or won’t be given or put in place. Without regular security updates, apps become more and more vulnerable to bugs and new ways to attack. And if an OS is no longer supported, the people who made it are less likely to keep up with fixing security holes in it. Attackers know this, so they will try to take advantage of it.

If a cyberattack hits your business because of the security issues from using an unsupported operating system, your worries about modernization will seem like nothing. And if a bad actor gets access to your customers’ important data because of a flaw in an application that hasn’t been fixed, for example, the risk to your business could be existential, and your company could face widespread downtime and financial losses.

Compliance is something else that businesses in regulated fields like law, finance, and ecommerce need to think about. It’s one thing to lose money or lose business because of a cyberattack that took advantage of a weakness in an old system. But fines from the government can be the start of the end for businesses.

Protect Your IT Investments

A comprehensive application security assessment is a good place to start if your business wants to protect itself from the security issues from using an unsupported operating system. During an application assessment, your consulting partner will check all the apps on your network for current flaws and possible threats. They will also give you a plan to fix the problems they find.

A full application security assessment should give your business a clear picture of how your employees use apps and what kinds of risks they pose. The evaluation should also find out if your business is using infected apps and if malware is in trusted and supported apps.

If you find people using apps that aren’t supported, your business should come up with a plan to get rid of or replace them right away. Using alternative controls, for example, to fix security holes caused by applications that can’t be updated, might work in the short term, but many regulatory frameworks say that these controls can only be used temporarily and require businesses to have a long-term plan for fixing the problem.

Now that you know what apps are being used and how they are being used across your organization, you’ll need to make sure that you can keep this level of visibility and control over the environment.

It’s not enough to look at the security of your business at one point in time, fix the problems, and move on. Because threats are always changing and attack methods are getting smarter, businesses need to keep evaluating their security to stay one step ahead of attackers.

This means that you have to keep checking that your security measures are working, look for holes, and keep track of your assets. Businesses can invest in tools and technologies that provide constant security monitoring and validation by simulating attacks and the methods used by bad actors.

Having a strong asset management system in place can also help protect you from the risks that come with apps or systems that aren’t supported. By keeping a current list of the devices running unpatched or older versions of software and applications, you’ll know exactly where the risks are and where you need to focus your efforts to bring all apps and systems up to date and in line with best cybersecurity practices. When it comes to cybersecurity, if you always know where these possible weak spots are, you’re less likely to get caught.

The security issues from using an unsupported operating system are too big to ignore, and businesses that still use old or unsupported products should have a plan for getting rid of or replacing them. Businesses can improve their security without implementing a full modernization or digitization plan all at once. Businesses can lower the overall risk of their systems by keeping track of all the apps and systems their employees use and by putting their security measures to the test all the time. When they find holes, they should be patched or access should be limited.

Why would you put your business’s most important information on an OS that isn’t supported or on an application that could be hacked when you can take easy steps to reduce the risks? It’s just not worth the possible downtime, fines, and damage to your business.

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