Continued Use of Unsupported Operating Systems Places Organizations at High Risk of Attack

Do you have any machines running on unsupported operating systems? Is all of your software up to date with all of the latest patches applied? If you are not patching promptly or are still running outdated, unsupported operating systems or software, you are taking unnecessary risks and are leaving your network open to attack.

Hackers are constantly trawling the Internet looking for vulnerable systems to attack. Even if you are only running Windows XP or Vista on one networked machine, it could allow a hacker to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to part or all of your network.

An alarming number of businesses are still running outdated software and are not patching promptly. For instance, 7.4% of businesses are still using Windows XP, even though Microsoft stopped issuing patches three years ago.

Hackers are discovering new vulnerabilities in software and operating systems faster than the software manufacturers can address those flaws. Zero-day vulnerabilities are regularly discovered and exploits developed to take advantage of the flaws and gain access to business networks. When a software developer stops issuing updates, the list of potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited grows fast.

Take Windows for example. Each set of updates released by Microsoft every Patch Tuesday contains patches to remediate several critical vulnerabilities that could be exploited to run code or access a system and gain user privileges. While exploits may not currently exist for those flaws at the time the patches are released, that is not the case for long. Hackers can look at the updates and reverse engineer patches to discover the vulnerabilities. Exploits can then be developed to attack unpatched machines.

Take the recent set of updates addressed by Microsoft in its March Patch Tuesday update as an example. Microsoft silently patched a slew of flaws for which exploits had been developed. Four days later, exploit tools from The Equation Group were dumped online by Shadow Brokers. Those tools could be used to exploit the flaws addressed by Microsoft a few days previously.

The exploit tools can be used to attack unpatched machines, but the patches were only issued to address flaws in supported versions of Windows. Many of those exploit tools can be used to attack unsupported Windows versions such as XP and Vista.

One of those tools, called Eternalromance, will likely work on all previous versions of Windows back to Windows XP. EasyPi, Eclipsedwing, Emeraldthread, eraticgopher and esteemaudit have all been confirmed to work on Windows XP.

Those are just the exploit tools recently discovered by The Equation Group. They represent just a small percentage of the exploits that exist for flaws in older, unpatched Windows versions. In addition to exploits for Windows flaws, there are exploits for many software programs.

There will always be zero day exploits that can be used to attack businesses, but running outdated software and unsupported operating systems makes it too easy for hackers.

Businesses of all sizes must therefore ensure that they have good patch management policies covering all software and operating systems and all devices. However, since unsupported operating systems will never be patched, continued use of those products represents a very large and unnecessary risk.

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Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is a news writer on Defensorum. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked on many publications for several years. Elizabeth writers about compliance and the related areas of IT security breaches. Elizabeth's has a focus data privacy and secure handling of personal information. Elizabeth has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAAZone. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone