Thursday, 14th November 2019
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Freedom of Information requests reveal nearly half of English councils are still using unsupported server software

Councils’ leaving themselves open to security vulnerabilities and expensive extended support costs.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, undertaken by COMPAREX UK, have highlighted a number of security vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructures of many English councils. The FOIs, submitted to all London Borough, Metropolitan, and County Councils in England, highlighted that nearly half (46 per cent) are still using one or more of Windows Server 2000, Windows Server 2003, or Microsoft SQL Server 2005. All three products are now out of extended support, meaning customers no longer receive regular security patches.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents said they were still running Windows Server 2000 or Windows Server 2003 specifically. Of those councils running Windows Server 2000 or Windows Server 2003, nearly all (94 per cent) indicated plans to upgrade within the next two years. Nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) of councils said they were running Microsoft SQL Server 2005, with the majority (88 per cent) stating they were planning to upgrade in next couple of years.

Upgrading software is becoming increasingly important, as the threat of cybercrime continues to grow. Typically, malware developers and cybercriminals closely track vulnerabilities in out-of-date software and work backwards to exploit them. For example, Windows Server 2003 currently has nearly 150 known significant vulnerabilities.

“By continuing to run out-of-date server software, many councils are exposing themselves to a host of security and compliance risks,” said Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director – Public Sector, COMPAREX UK. “The FOI data suggests that matters are slowly improving, as separate FOI requests to London Borough Councils back in 2016 showed that 70 per cent were running unsupported server software. However, with GDPR now in effect, councils need to be even more cognisant of vulnerabilities – especially considering the volume of citizen data they hold. With that in mind, it is important that risks are managed, and councils establish an upgrade strategy.”

Ninety-four per cent of councils said they were also currently running Windows Server 2008, and the same number said they were currently running Windows SQL Server 2008. Both products are already out of mainstream support, with extended support ending in the next two years. The FOI data revealed that just 13 per cent of councils were currently paying for extended support for Windows Server 2008, while 9 per cent were paying for extended support for Windows SQL Server 2008. With so few councils paying for extended support, this means that the majority are no longer receiving security updates, leaving themselves open to security vulnerabilities.

“The FOI data presents a worrying picture. Only a handful of councils are currently paying for extended support, but it appears most are either unaware or are simply ignoring the risks of using unsupported software. Councils need more detailed insight and greater visibility into their software estates, so they can make better informed upgrade decisions,” added Chris Bartlett. “Many councils may also be delaying upgrades for fear of the potential cost and disruption they might incur. However, councils can no longer afford to stick their heads in the sand – they should be looking to upgrade as soon as possible.”

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