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End-of-Life Software: A Security Minefield


What is End of life software?


In the rapidly evolving landscape of technology, software applications play a crucial role in our daily lives, more so than we often think, every interaction with a computer, smartphone etc involves interaction with some form of software at some point. As useful as software is, like many things it ages, as it does it reaches a point known as "end-of-life" (EOL).


As you may or may not know, software is, and always has been, sold in terms of “a license to use”. The license may be “lifetime” or may be for a limited time (e.g. one year}. A limited license will usually terminate automatically. The software will not be EOL, but the license will need to be renewed.


The license includes regular updates to the software. These updates could include improved features, but they could also be fixes for security glitches that have been detected and are regarded by experts as causing vulnerability that could be exploited by hackers. It is now customary for updates to be installed within 14 days. To make updating easy, many software vendors include “auto-updates”.


End-of-life (EOL) software is a term that you may or may not be familiar with. EOL is software that has come to the end of its development lifecycle, and is no longer supported by its developer. Its license has expired. This means that it will no longer receive security updates or bug fixes, leaving it vulnerable to known and unknown security vulnerabilities. While it may be tempting to stick with familiar software, the dangers posed by software beyond its EOL especially from a security standpoint, should not be underestimated. Hackers and other malicious actors are constantly looking for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in software, and EOL software is a prime target.


Now we have an idea what it is, let’s explore the risks in more detail…



1. Security Vulnerabilities:


One of the most significant risks associated with using end-of-life software is the presence of unpatched security vulnerabilities. As new threats emerge, developers cease to provide timely updates and patches, leaving these applications exposed to exploitation. Cybercriminals actively target EOL software, taking advantage of the lack of support to infiltrate systems and compromise sensitive data.



2. Increased Risk of Breaches:


Running software beyond its end-of-life date is akin to leaving a door wide open for cyber threats. Without the shield of regular security updates, businesses and individuals become more susceptible to breaches. A single vulnerability can serve as a gateway for attackers to gain unauthorized access, steal information, or even launch ransomware attacks.



3. Compliance Concerns:


In many industries, compliance standards require the use of supported and regularly updated software to ensure the security and privacy of sensitive data. Using EOL software may lead to non-compliance, exposing organizations to legal repercussions and regulatory fines. Staying current with software updates not only enhances security but also helps maintain compliance with industry standards.



4. Evolving Threat Landscape:


As technology advances, so do the tactics employed by cybercriminals. End-of-life software lacks the capability to adapt to these evolving threats, leaving users with outdated defences. Upgrading to the latest versions ensures that security measures stay ahead of emerging risks, providing a proactive approach to cybersecurity.



5. Vendor Discontinuation:


When software reaches its end-of-life, vendors typically discontinue customer support, leaving users without a safety net. In case of issues or security incidents, there will be no assistance available, leaving users to navigate potential problems on their own. Upgrading to supported software ensures ongoing access to technical support and assistance. To safeguard against the risks associated with end-of-life software, it's essential to stay informed about the status of the applications you use. Fortunately, there are ways to find out when your software goes EOL:


a. Official Vendor Websites:

Start by checking the official website of the software vendor. Most reputable companies provide clear information about the lifecycle of their products, including end-of-life dates. Look for dedicated sections or announcements regarding product support and updates.


b. Product Documentation:

Software documentation often includes details about product lifecycle phases. Review user manuals, release notes, or online documentation provided by the vendor. This can give you insights into the planned support duration and any upcoming end-of-life announcements.


c. Security Bulletins and Notifications:

Subscribe to security bulletins and notifications from the software vendor. Many companies regularly release alerts about vulnerabilities, updates, and end-of-life announcements. Staying subscribed ensures that you receive timely information about the status of your software.


d. Online Communities and Forums:

Participate in online communities and forums dedicated to the specific software you're using. Users often share information about updates, issues, and end-of-life status. Engaging in these communities can provide valuable insights and keep you in the loop about the latest developments.


e. Third-Party Security Databases:

Utilize third-party security databases and websites that compile information about software vulnerabilities and end-of-life status. These platforms often aggregate data from various sources, offering a centralized resource to check the status of your software.


f. IT Security News Outlets:

Follow reputable IT security news outlets and blogs. These sources often cover end-of-life announcements, security vulnerabilities, and the overall landscape of software security. Staying informed through such channels can help you proactively address potential risks.


By actively seeking information through these channels, you empower yourself to make informed decisions about your software infrastructure. Regularly checking for updates and end-of-life announcements ensures that you stay ahead of security threats and take timely actions to protect your digital assets.



If you are unable to upgrade immediately, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk:


Segment your networks

Place EOL systems on a separate network from your other systems. This will help to contain any breaches that may occur.


Implement strong security controls

Firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and anti-virus software, to protect your systems where any software is beyond EOL. Putting such software behind a suitably configured firewall should prevent interaction of that software with the Internet.


Monitor your systems closely

Look closely for signs of suspicious activity while you find a way to replace any EOL software. Even if the software is offline, it could still in theory cause internal damage.


As ever, think ahead and have a plan in place to deal with security incidents, such as data breaches and ransomware attacks, so that normal system activity can return asap.



Conclusion


In an era where digital threats are ever-present, the importance of upgrading software cannot be overstated. The risks associated with end-of-life software extend beyond inconvenience to potential catastrophic consequences. Prioritizing software updates and migrating to supported versions is not just a matter of convenience; it's a critical step in safeguarding against the evolving landscape of cyber threats. The upfront effort and investment in upgrading pale in comparison to the potential fallout of a security breach. It's time to bid farewell to software that reaches end-of-life and embrace a more secure digital future.



Useful Links:

NCSC Infrastructure document v3.1:


List of windows versions and when they become EOL:



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