Failing to keep software and hardware up-to-date can put your business at risk for cyber attacks. The following issues frequently leave businesses exposed to cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
The Culprits Behind Technological Debt
Most technological debt is unintentional, the by-product of efforts to save money and resources. This focus inadvertently derails cybersecurity by shifting resources away from critical infrastructure and code updates.
Forgotten Technology May Haunt Your Business
Many large organizations operate unaware of the risks posed by their out-of-date IT systems. That’s mostly because IT is a means to an end, and most businesses treat it as a necessary evil.
Think about it: in the beginning, new hardware increases a business’ efficiency. New barcode scanners speed up the inventory management process and self-checkout kiosks reduce wait times. Yet, in time, these devices become a pain to use. That might be related to age, but it also might be related to software updates.
The more something is a pain, the more we tend to ignore it. In the case of technological debt, ignorance is not bliss. Ignoring technological debt increases a business’s risk of being attacked.
Why Do Software Updates Matter?
When hardware (from computers to barcode scanners to computer-driven manufacturing plants) goes without updates, it is running old software. The longer the hardware goes without a software update, the more complicated it gets to secure the device (and to make network access from the device secure).
The updates address problems with the software. These problems might be a weakness in code that attackers use to gain access to your business.
Yet, software updates sometimes make old hardware impossible to use. Devices may work more slowly, and sometimes not connect to the network at all. As a result, businesses make decisions to continue using out-of-date hardware. Effectively, they make decisions to use insecure technology.
At the same time, some software updates may make devices redundant. In order to make a whole system secure, large parts of it may need to be replaced. This costs money and requires a significant investment of time. So, businesses make decisions. Either to keep using an out-of-date system, or to replace a system in its entirety.
What is Technological Debt?
This decision to run hardware without updated software is called Technological Debt. Instead of keeping products up-to-date, companies choose to take a less expensive path. This less expensive path, however, leads to a laundry list of software solutions that should have been updated – and a laundry list of opportunities for attackers to breach a business.
The vulnerabilities presented by technological debt create opportunities for cyber attackers. Known weak points in code can easily be leveraged to gain access to a business’s data or even IT systems. Once network access has been granted, an attacker can plan for many diversions of data.
Minimizing technological debt requires an understanding of how attackers can discover and leverage vulnerabilities.
5 Reasons Technological Debt Increases Risk
We’ve identified five ways that technological debt increases the risk of cyber attack in 2021.
Reason 1: Technical Complexity
Even the smallest business relies on multiple software and hardware products. A small boutique might use an iPad and payment processor when customers make their purchases, in addition to a handful of software products to manage the business. Now, imagine the effort to update these systems. It’s not insignificant. Many small business owners might not have the knowledge or time to update their products. Now, imagine a larger organization with dozens of systems from a handful of vendors. This is a huge job. To coordinate migration of every system and to add new layers of security would require a huge amount of planning. But…it’s worth it. Each of these software and hardware products are like doors and windows into a network. When not updated or forgotten, these access points can remain open for cyber attackers to exploit.
Reason 2: Lagging Performance
Without updates, products don’t work well. They especially don’t work well together. When this happens (and when administrative rights aren’t clearly established), users may start to adapt their product usage to improve the experience. Unlicensed software often offers employees the promise of improved efficiency. However, unlicensed software can be downloaded full of malware. It can also leave a computer exposed, when one of the proverbially doors are left open. Lagging performance may not be a problem that attracts an attacker, but it certainly is a problem that invites risky user behaviour. In turn, risky user behavior can result in Potentially Unwanted Programs
Reason 3: Out-of-date Hardware
While hardware is often treated like a ‘set it and forget it’ acquisition, physical IT infrastructure also requires regular updating and replacement. Unfortunately, hardware is regularly acquired and unmaintained. When older hardware is expected to run newer
SaaS/digital service, the business is exposed to more risk. Unsupported technology is not just about the cost of replacement; it also presents the cost of recovering from a cyber attack.
Reason 4: Human Fatigue
People are busy. People in the workplace are especially busy. When expected to maintain their own IT systems, especially when working from home, human fatigue can introduce significant cybersecurity risk. For the most part, fatigue prevents system updates. Which obviously put systems at risk. The solution to human fatigue is offering a clear and easy-to-follow technology update policy. This may be administered automatically or by the IT team. The goal being to ensure updates are applied – regardless of employee intervention.
Reason 5: Budget Constraints
Every business keeps a firm eye on the bottom line. When an opportunity to save money appears, it’s hard to resist. In many cases, a viable IT solution will continue to work without updates for quite a long time. If this saves money, many businesses accept that proposition. However, developing a balance between functionality and viability is important when considering cybersecurity. The viability of a business is significantly eroded when a ransomware attack strikes due to out-of-date software. While saving money on technological updates may seem like a good short-term decision, the risks are more abundant than the viability.
Managing Technological Debt
Technological debt presents rampant opportunity for cyber attacks. Keeping software and hardware up-to-date requires a thorough understanding of all the product/services used in an IT infrastructure. To be frank, the alternative is failure. The cost of documenting technology and the versions of software may seem unattainable, yet the investment ensures that every possible proactive approach has been followed to secure a business against technological debt. Without a dedication to understanding technological debt and IT succession planning, businesses are vulnerable to breaches and cyberattacks – and ultimately failure.