A large number of businesses still run Microsoft MSFT -1.71% Windows Server 2003 and it’s unlikely they all will upgrade before Microsoft Corp. ends support on July 14, 2015, say analysts. Companies that don’t upgrade increase their cyber security risks because the company will no longer issue security updates and these systems will be more vulnerable to hackers.
Businesses worldwide run an estimated 23.8 million physical and virtual instances of Windows Server 2003, according to data released by Microsoft in July 2014. Analysts say the technology is more prevalent in industries such as health care, utilities and government. Yet it’s also still used in about 7% of retail point of sale systems, according to a report Thursday by Trend Micro Inc.4704.TO -1.11%
“Microsoft does not plan to extend support for Windows Server 2003 and encourages customers who currently run Windows Server 2003 and have not yet begun migration planning to do so immediately,” said Vivecka Budden, a Microsoft spokesperson, in an email.
“It is going to be difficult to get this done in time,” said David Mayer, practice director of Microsoft Solutions at Insight Enterprises Inc.NSIT -1.12%, a provider of IT hardware, software and services.
Many of these same industries were impacted by the end of service for the Windows XP operating system on April 8. Microsoft broadcasts these sorts of moves years in advance, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But, the product was stable and for many companies there simply wasn’t incentive to update.
“In general, everyone has been slow to migrate, especially those with servers that are running applications,” said Rob Helm, vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft consulting firm.
The problem in industries such as health care and utilities is that companies run legacy apps written by vendors who still require Windows Server 2003. For example, there are smaller vendors in health care that have not kept up with development and application modernization, said a health-care CIO who asked not to be identified. A hospital may have an inventory of 100 to 500 different applications and many applications will still require Windows Server 2003, he added.
Electric utilities, for example, widely use Windows Server 2003. There hasn’t been much movement to upgrade those systems, said Patrick C. Miller, founder of the nonprofit Energy Sector Security Consortium and a managing partner at The Anfield Group, a security consulting firm. Instead, utilities are working to better secure and isolate those systems.
“I’m concerned about directory services such as application authentication and user permissions,” said Mr. Miller. “If you compromise an Active Directory server, you get access to everything.”
For now, analysts are recommending that companies work out their risk of exposure and make plans to first migrate those applications that will be most difficult. Companies should make plans to harden servers that can’t be updated. That might entail putting those systems on an isolated network, where they’d be less prone to outside attack, said Mr. Helm.
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