Recently updated on August 8th, 2022

Legacy systems are notoriously costly, but the bigger issue might be how they negatively impact your cybersecurity. In fact, a report from a multinational IT company, HP, stated that nearly half of all exploits target a vulnerability that is two to four years old. Many outdated legacy systems have low application security for a number of reasons. Read more to understand why application security is vital to keeping your business afloat.

What are Legacy Systems?

In computing, a legacy system is defined as outdated technology, computer system or application program. These are systems that once had value, but have been replaced with newer, more secure and efficient technology.

The age of the system does not matter in this case. The only thing that makes your system outdated is the fact that there is an updated version or a newer technology that supersedes the value of your current system.

Legacy systems are like an antique car. They may continue to run, but are very fragile and expensive to keep in top-quality condition. More so if your legacy system becomes unsafe to “drive,” you need to replace it with something more dependable.

Why is Application Security So Important?

WannaCry was a ransomware worm that impacted a variety of private and state-run systems in May 2017 including Britain’s National Health Service, Windows XP and Symantec. While there have been many attacks over the years, WannaCry specifically targeted legacy systems exploiting previously unknown vulnerabilities in older versions of Microsoft Windows operating systems.

WannaCry still is impacting systems today, although its damage has been managed with patches. The WannaCry ransomware worm is estimated to reach $4 billion in costs globally. Keeping your business applications and software up to date is the best way to protect yourself, however, support only goes so far.

Patch Tuesday is Only the Start

Tuesdays have become the go-to day for software companies to release updates and patches for older software and applications. Patch Tuesday, as it’s called in IT circles, is an important day for many IT departments to ensure that their systems are running on the most updated versions of security software. However, that doesn’t mean that every person or business is downloading these patches.

The WannaCry ransomware attack already had a patch created and disseminated to prevent the infection. Despite this issue being flagged by Microsoft, many systems weren’t patched in time to prevent the spread of the worm.

While many attacks can be prevented simply by staying up to date on your security patches, legacy applications have their own host of issues that cause them to be vulnerable.

Your Applications have Outdated Security Protocols

Legacy systems, by definition, are outdated versions of software. Outdated versions of software are typically the first on the chopping block when it comes to new patches and updates- eventually leading to a complete halting of all support. When this happens, you are on your own.

There are tens of thousands of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). That is a lot of threats that your legacy system will have to be prepared for when support dries up. These newer threats are designed to go around newer security measures. Depending on how old your legacy system is, it may not be compatible with multi-factor authentication, single sign-on capabilities and modern encryption methods.

In-House Applications are more likely to Be Exposed over Time

Related to application security, this image showcases a newspaper snapshot of an article with the title named “IT Asset Manager”. The title has been circled by a yellow highlighter.

Many businesses have decided to build bespoke, or custom, applications internally. This typically leads to a multitude of programmers overseeing the management of that platform. As time goes on and the once modern application becomes outdated, it likely has gone through multiple revisions leaving “spaghetti code”, or coding that is difficult to secure because it’s difficult to untangle.

Even if the business has decided that a legacy system is outdated, many do not decommission the software. It simply stays in a metaphorical file room getting “dusty”. However, after multiple instances of personal turnover, this long-lost application may get brought back into the limelight again accidentally exposing it and your business’ data to external exploits.

For example, FedEx acquired Bongo International, a leader in cross-border enablement technologies and solutions. As their legacy storage server was unceremoniously transferred over, an Amazon S3 server was left online and unsecured exposing over 100,000 customer records to the dark web.

Legacy Platforms Lack Modern Application Security Infrastructure

Most legacy applications are built to track performance, but many lack the real-time security monitoring protocols needed in the modern IT environment. They either have a difficult-to-analyze format or they may not even have audit trails and log functionality necessary to pinpoint intrusion points.

If your application is connected to the internet and your business’ intranet, you are giving cybercriminals an open door to your entire network. If exploits can enter without being noticed because a legacy application doesn’t have the proper checks and balances of a modern cloud or hybrid stack, the end result could be cataclysmic for your organization- especially a medium to small business.

A Reminder to Take a Look at Your IT Inventory

While there may not be a budget to modernize or replace your legacy systems, it will likely cost your business more if you don’t. Take an inventory of your applications. Decommission, or sunset, the ones that are not in use and aren’t upgraded to modern security standards. Modernize the business applications that are necessary to run your operations. Stay on top of your patches. If you lack the developers or time to modernize your systems, call on Next Horizon to help.

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