Chris Mountford 14 February 2020

The cost of running on outdated software

With the increased drive to digitise processes in the UK, businesses holding sensitive data now strive to keep their IT infrastructure fully updated, ensuring more robust protection against potential security breaches or threats. It’s rare for a bank or accountancy firm to be running with an outdated Operating System (OS). Shouldn’t this also be the case for local councils?

At the tail end of 2019, many public council organisations scrambled to update their devices before Microsoft withdrew support for the now obsolete Windows 7. But there are still many systems running on outdated software. Public sector budgets are clearly being squeezed, which undoubtedly limits access to cutting-edge technology at most local government associations. However, security is one corner which should not be cut, considering that councils are responsible for a wealth of sensitive citizen data.

On the 14th of January this year, Microsoft ceased offering any further security updates or vulnerability patches to any PCs running the incumbent software. Not only does this mean that councils face being reliant on devices still lagging on outdated software, it leaves huge security gaps, exposing them to malicious attacks and data breaches.

However, with budgets under scrutiny, how can local government associations balance the books whilst ensuring that the data of all users in the region is entirely secure?

The price of delaying updates

The WannaCry attack in 2017 happened to the NHS, but it’s easy to see how local government could also become the target of a similar attack. WannaCry exposed the fact that out-of-date software was a major contributing factor to the NHS’ weakened security defences, due to patches no longer being available for systems running outdated versions of Windows.

If local government fails to ensure its software and devices are safe by upgrading to Window’s 10, the consequences could mean another equally disruptive security breach that could put citizen data at risk or lead to a ransomware attack.

Increasing efficiency and protecting user data

A fully updated OS should be a priority for all councils due to its strengthened ability to protect data, but there are other benefits. Following on from the popular Windows 7, Windows 10 offers options of data storage both on site and through the cloud. This choice will let staff safely store data off site, while not forcing them to abandon an on-site system.

Windows 10 can even enhance efficiency, with new tools and features designed to streamline processes and help users become more productive. Councils are constantly working towards increased efficiency on the resources they have, and fully updated devices will provide tools that can enable further progress alongside the bolstered data protection.

Making the change easier

The easiest solution to protecting user data is an upgrade of current devices and software. However, realistically this isn’t always a viable solution, especially when it comes to securing sign off from the senior leadership board for investment. There are however other options; consider refurbished devices that come pre-installed with Windows 10, negating the need to go through a full software upgrade and leasing programmes.

Finding a good IT provider or partner to guide you through the transition is paramount. There are companies that can take charge of installation, upgrades, maintenance and provide warranty on devices. A complete service ensures safety of data, and means that devices are always working to the highest standard, and seamlessly functioning for staff.

Within local government, protection of information is vital for both staff and citizens, and this can’t happen on outdated devices. Many councils stayed ahead of the game by preparing to update their systems ahead of the deadline in January, but they can go one step further by bringing in new devices that come with pre-installed software – simultaneously refreshing IT equipment and ensuring absolute protection of sensitive data. Equally, staff must be taught the importance of protecting user data from breaches. It makes the difference between defending against an attack like Wannacry, and being one step ahead and avoiding it altogether.

Chris Mountford is account director and head of public sector at Stone Group

Photo: Anton Watman / Shutterstock.com

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