The security risks of outdated software
Some things were made to last forever. Software is not one of them.
Indeed, software is more like food — it goes out of date. It might be fine for a little bit after its sell-by date, but then it festers, it gets mouldy. And the longer you leave it, the worse it gets. But it’s not a nasty case of food poisoning that you’re risking. Outdated software risks poisoning your business systems and wreaking havoc on your security.
In fact, outdated software comes with a host of security vulnerabilities. If you have it, you’re putting your data — and your business — at risk.
Why does outdated software pose a risk?
Technology is fast-paced, ever-evolving and fuelled by innovation. As a result, software has a short life cycle — one sustained by ongoing updates and upgrades.
When software no longer has updates to sustain it, it becomes outdated. This outdated software is unmaintained. It cannot integrate with new applications, nor can it run smoothly on new devices.
Then there are the risks to consider. Outdated software doesn’t have patches if vulnerabilities are found, and it can fall prey to far more advanced cyber-attacks. This poses a cacophony of security risks, both due to human malice and the chances of system failure.
Just as technology and software change and advance in no time at all, so too do cyber threats. Viruses, malware and attacks get more and more sophisticated. Plus, cybercriminals know (and can exploit) the weaknesses in outdated software.
As a result, outdated software might not be able to withstand an up-to-date cyber-attack.
So, if your outdated software includes the use, storage or application of data, that data becomes at risk. Your systems will be more vulnerable to ransomware attacks, malware and data breaches. Out of date software, then, can give attackers a back door into the rest of your systems.
Security lapses raise subsequent compliance issues. In terms of GDPR, failing to have up to date software could be viewed as a form of negligence. This means that if you have outdated software and suffer a related security breach, you not only lose the trust of your customers, but could face a hefty fine to boot.
Outdated software doesn’t just leave your security vulnerable to human malice. It also leaves it vulnerable to system failure.
An outdated software program is one that’s no longer supported by the vendor. This means that any new-found bugs in the program aren’t addressed. Plus, out-of-date software becomes less and less likely to work on new hardware and remain compatible with newer operating systems.
At best, this can result in business disruptions. If a device stops working or becomes infected, it can stop you in your tracks. Until you can get the outdated software to work, you cannot continue business, and you risk losing the data that’s stored on the outdated program.
At worst, you can suffer from a full system failure. This may happen, for example, if the outdated software is core to the operation of the rest of your business systems. Again, a system failure results in vulnerability and data loss – though often on a more destructive scale.
Keeping your software healthy
So, it’s important that your systems don’t run on outdated software. But how can you keep it healthy, and your data safe? The answer lies in regular updates and upgrades.
Updates often happen automatically in the background — but not always. So, good practice is to check regularly for updates and make sure that your software has them. Software updates are for the general maintenance of your software. They include patching vulnerabilities and guarding against new-found cyber threats.
Now and then, you’ll need an upgrade to keep your software healthy. This is a bigger change that will need some attention. Upgrades aren’t always needed right away. However, vendors often stop supporting (read: supplying updates to) their older programs. When this happens, you’ll need to upgrade to avoid using outdated software.
When it’s time for an upgrade, then, be sure to back up your data. You should also check compatibility for system integration, and discuss any concerns with your vendor. This reduces the risks of data loss, business disruption and a bumpy upgrade experience.
Outdated software: a weak link
When you have outdated software, you aren’t missing out on a few new features or a slightly faster program. You’re also exposing your business to vulnerabilities and security risks.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t leave rotten food in the fridge, because you risk the fresh food spoiling too. Software is the same. So, don’t let your software go off — keep it updated, secure and healthy.
What’s the difference between a software upgrade and a software update?