A recent report in CRN magazine has revealed the majority of local councils are running their computers and laptops on Windows 7 – an operating system that is due to go end of life in less than two years’ time.
The report made me draw a sharp intake of breath as although I would not class myself as an IT expert, I have worked in the industry long enough and read plenty of blogs and news articles to know that end of life is not a good situation to be in with hackers causing daily disruption.
WannaCry, arguably the most infamous ransomware attack to date due to the NHS being its target, was largely attributed to the number of public healthcare sector machines still using legacy Windows XP operating systems.
The nostalgic part of me remembers XP fondly but all that sentimentality would be lost if I my data had been held to ransom and I could not do my job properly. My horror would only be compounded if my IT issues impacted on the lives of others.
The fact is all communications and IT systems have to be kept up to date to protect businesses and organisations from suffering a cyber-attack. These local authorities need to get started with their upgrade if they, and their clients, i.e. the general public, are going to remain protected from the effects of attacks we don’t even know about yet.
CRN revealed 83% of local authority Windows machines are still running Windows 7 and that 17% of the 317 councils that responded to the Freedom of Information request said they are yet to plan a migration away from the operating system. Just one per cent had completed a migration to Windows 10.
The end of life scenario is understandably irritating. I imagine cries of “it only feels like yesterday” are commonplace when someone starts nagging you to do the next upgrade. In real terms though, a few years have usually passed and we have short memories!
As a communications business, swcomms has to remind its customers when their software is due to go end of life and there can be some resistance.
While we have sympathy, it is unrealistic to believe that a system purchased 10, 5 or even a couple of years earlier is still going to be as effective as brand new one. Look at the positives, and put security aside for a brief moment, technology is evolving all the time and the latest version is usually better.
As a small example, my teenage daughter always favours doing her homework on my laptop instead of my PC as the former has Office 365 on it and she wants to use the most up-to-date apps. Similarly, operating systems and software platforms will offer extra or improved modern features and functions above their older counterparts.
Inevitably though, the end of life argument always seems to come back to security. It would be impossible for a system designed a few years ago to imagine the cyber-attacks we have seen recently or have yet to experience; let alone fight them off.
And the threat of cyber-attack is a very real one. The head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin recently warned that a major cyber-attack on the UK is a matter of “when, not if” and that we have been fortunate to avoid a so-called category one (C1) attack, broadly defined as an attack that might cripple infrastructure such as energy supplies and the financial services sector.
While I head off to upgrade my PC to meet my daughter’s exacting and, actually, sensible standards, I would advise businesses and organisations to stop flinching at the end of life scenario and to strategically and financially plan for IT and communications system updates. Alternatively, they need to look at moving to subscription-based managed services which allow for automatic upgrades within the regular cost avoiding spikes in IT investment.
Our world is reliant on these systems so we need to embrace the very best versions and protect ourselves as much as we can to the point that these end of life stories no longer hit the headlines.
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