Old Technology: We All Use It, But At What Risk?

How old technology may be introducing security risks to the corporate network

We may think of today’s corporate America as a mobile workforce, with everybody conducting business from their phones or tablets or laptops from any location in the world. And up to a point, that’s true; we can work from anywhere, thanks to technology and WiFi on planes. But when you get right down to it, while we think of ourselves as a mobile workforce, we are actually tied down to a desk in a cubicle for most of our work week. A desk that has a traditional computer and a landline—you know, “old-fashioned” technology.

However, according to a recent study from Spiceworks, we aren’t just relying on old-fashioned technology, but also old technology. Offices tend to use devices until they are out dated and holding on to technology long past recommended replacement cycles. Could this be creating undue risks?

Organizations Still Depend on Old Tech

For all the talk about IoT and BYOD taking over the workplace, the reality is the conversion has been slow. According to the report, only 28 percent of companies deploy IoT devices. Smartphones are more utilized at 78 percent but are still behind the good old desk phone and landline, which is used by 93 percent of organizations.

Not surprisingly, almost every organization relies on desktops, laptops, printers and servers. Desktops remain the most popular device for getting work done, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change anytime soon. In 2016, Spiceworks predicted that tablets would soon take over as the primary device, but in 2018, that isn’t even close to being a reality.

However, the desktops and other devices we use are old, with 70 percent of organizations waiting for more than five years to replace a desktop, pushing them well past warranty dates. Even our smartphones are kept around longer than you’d expect, with a little over half of companies keeping them around for four years. As someone who just replaced a 4-year-old smartphone and uses a 5-year-old desktop, I understand this idea of keeping devices for a long time. But while I am good about updating and replacing old software on my desktop and ensuring that any vulnerabilities are kept in check, that old smartphone was not quite as secure (or functional!).

Old Equipment on the Network

Chances are good you are using an outdated device, as well. More than 1 billion Android devices are using OS versions that are at least one, more likely two years out of date. And unless you are using one of the newer iOS versions, your device is likely obsolete. This increases your risks of malware infections because your device is susceptible to vulnerabilities that aren’t patched. You may not even be able to patch an old device because you have no room left in memory or the device simply can’t support the newer OS versions.

Another risk of using old equipment is that it likely doesn’t meet the newest WiFi protocol standards, and that means your device isn’t getting a secure connection. As a CTC Technologies blog post stated, “Devices that don’t support WPA2 should be replaced. Without strong Wi-Fi security, data may be intercepted and the risk of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is increased.”

If your employees are using old technologies as their BYOD, then they aren’t just putting their data and devices at risk, but also opening up your network to potential threats.

Solution to Replacing Old Tech

Organizations continue to old technology for a couple of reasons. One, it is familiar and for as much as we love new technology, many of us are adverse to switching to something new, even when it is more secure and more efficient. It’s why we hold on to our smartphones well past their optimal use and why so many people used Windows XP long after Microsoft ended its support. Two, replacing technology is expensive and many organizations don’t have the budget for regular upgrades and replacements. Three, some of that older technology is easier to secure. Your IT or security staff can better monitor the security on the desktop that they control than a tablet that is regularly used offsite or is BYOD.

However, don’t be surprised if your organization begins to feel a push toward updating technology. As the workforce becomes younger, new employees wants the technology they are accustomed to, according to the Spiceworks study.

“Many businesses try to squeeze as much value out of their hardware as possible, using budget-friendly tech perhaps longer than they should and only replacing it when performance slows to a crawl or fails,” Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, said in an official statement. “But this inefficient and potentially risky behavior may begin to shift as younger IT pros take on decision making roles. In general, Gen Z and millennials prefer to invest in higher-end devices — which are often more reliable and better performing — because they believe doing so is more cost effective in the long run.”

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Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is freelance writer based on Central PA. She's been writing about cybersecurity and technology trends since 2008.

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