The Weak Link: Why Saving Money by Using Outdated Software Puts Data at Risk
New computers and software can be expensive. If you're using your laptop for your child's homework assignments or keeping your fledgling small business going, you might be tempted to not update your device or software that often. After all, it’s getting the job done, and as the saying goes, “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A lot of people think this way. A recent report found that most people in 2018 are using computers that are on average six years old. Only 2.54 percent of users have a machine purchased in 2017, and nearly 75 percent of users who own a device bought it in 2011 or earlier.
The problem with relying on an older computer is that updating to newer software – from apps to operating systems – can become more difficult. For example, your old applications may not work under the latest version of your computer’s operating system without potential cost-extra upgrades themselves.
More importantly, relying on outdated operating systems, file- and print-sharing utilities, and applications can expose your computer and all the data you keep on it to tremendous risks.
Unsupported Software is a Hacker’s Best Friend
Malicious actors love outdated systems and programs for the many vulnerabilities they present that can be exploited for criminal mischief. Commonly known vulnerabilities are flaws that can be swiftly weaponized, often as quickly as 24 hours after they become public knowledge. Vendors like Microsoft issue regular security updates and software patches to their operating systems and applications to close these vulnerabilities. Ignoring these updates is like leaving your door unlocked – exposing your work files, personal records, videos and photos to theft or damage.
In September 2018, WebTitan explained that new software had been discovered that delivers ransomware to Windows users by exploiting these commonly known vulnerabilities. The malicious software downloads ransomware to computers and, if successful, charges $499 to unencrypt the infected devices.
There are thousands of similar strains of this nasty type of malware out there, each using different techniques and vulnerabilities to hold user data hostage for ransom.
Not All Outdated Software is the Same
According to Bleeping Computer, 95 percent of users haven’t updated their Adobe Shockwave, VLC Media Player, or Skype applications. Further, they noted that 55 percent of all installed programs are out of date.
While vulnerabilities like these aren’t great, not everyone uses Skype or VLC Media Player. Hackers are more likely to focus on core software that is used by more people and isn’t always kept up-to-date. It’s a number game: the more popular that piece of software is, the more computers it can be found on, increasing the number of potential victims. This makes computers with operating systems that are no longer supported (and so aren’t getting new security updates) especially attractive, easy targets.
Surprise! Old Windows Is Not Your Friend
Microsoft Windows and the Office productivity suite may be the most popular OS applications on PCs, but research shows that many different versions of Windows are still in use, with 60 percent of users are running outdated Windows installations. Many are receiving reduced or no support for their OS:
- 2 percent of users have Windows Vista
- 3 percent of users have Windows XP
- 12 percent of users have Windows 8
- 43 percent of users have Windows 7
- 40 percent of users have Windows 10
Moreover, 15 percent of users are running the now dangerously out-of-date Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version of Windows 7, which Microsoft stopped supporting in 2013. Some users ignore update messages when they get them, while others get no update messages at all because they are no longer being sent.
What Else Is at Risk?
Risk comes in many forms. An outdated operating system with commonly known vulnerabilities may be the biggest problem for PC users, but outdated apps also threaten your personal information.
Just as malicious actors recognize commonly known vulnerabilities in operating systems, they use the same approach to web browsers. Most laptops have browser software that puts them at risk, allowing a malicious actor to access your browser history, which in turn can put all of your login information at risk.
Even everyday applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel have commonly known vulnerabilities that allow cybercriminals to inject malicious code that can encrypt or damage files on your computer.
While Excel and Word send notifications about required updates, some web browsers don’t send notifications – the burden is on users to proactively apply them. That leaves unpatched browsers open to malicious exploits.
An Ounce of Prevention
Keeping your operating system and your applications up-to-date is the best way to eliminate the vulnerabilities to your data. You’ll avoid crashes by ensuring your system is running the most stable, enhanced version of the software you rely on – and will close the gaps that can give hackers a toe-hold in your system.
If your software is still supported, be sure to install all patches and security updates as they become available. If you value your data, be sure to move to a supported version of your software when the manufacture alerts you that your current version has reached the end of support (EOS) or end of life (EOL).
Whether you experience data loss because your outdated software crashed or it let a ransomware attack in, you can always recover it if you create regular backups.
With Acronis True Image 2019 Cyber Protection, you can back up your entire computer, including the operating system, applications, and individual files, then store those backups locally or in the cloud. That way you can always restore your system quickly and easily. Plus it comes with an integrated anti-ransomware defense powered by artificial intelligence that automatically detects and stops any attacks your outdated software might let in.
Acronis True Image offers reliable, easy-to-use and affordable cyber protection for budget-conscious home users and small businesses whose old software and devices may be putting them at risk for an attack.