I recently read a statement from the National Security Agency (NSA) expressing concerns over the risks and vulnerabilities that come with running unpatched versions of older Windows operating systems.
First, you know it’s serious if the NSA, an entity in the US who depends on the collection and processing of information, is worried that your personal information is at risk. Second, it’s another in a long line of reasons to not allow your network to fall into such disarray that you can no longer protect it.
Why Are Windows Updates So Important?
Microsoft Windows is complex software. It needs to be. In order to do everything, we need it to do every day, and work with everything we need it to work with, it contains a lot of features and capabilities baked in.
The more complex your software is, the more chances there are that someone out there could find a vulnerability. This happens all the time, and when vulnerabilities are discovered, good software developers will quickly build an update that fixes them before they are exploited.
That’s what Windows updates are. Sure, there are new features being added in many of the updates as well, but the security patches are what is truly critical.
**Please note that sometimes it isn’t a good idea to just let Windows updates run automatically. Sometimes an update can break something else (like a third-party application or internal workflow). It’s best to test updates before deploying them across your network.
Problems Get Exposed as they are Fixed
Let me give you a more old-school example. Way back in the day, you used to be able to ‘hack’ a vending machine with fake coins called slugs. To combat this, new vending machines were created that had multiple sensors to measure and analyze the coin in real time to determine if it were real. When these new machines were released, they were also might newer looking than the old school, hackable vending machines. Word got out about how easily the older machines could accept a slug and encouraged people to seek them out to get free beverages.
What can we take away from this?
- If you owned an old vending machine, you were at risk of being hacked.
- Older vending machines were targeted by people who knew that they were hackable, as opposed to the new vending machines that weren’t as easily exploitable.
- Risk increased as time went on if you owned an older vending machine.
- How often do you see vending machines that even take coins these days? I’m dating myself.
When Microsoft releases security updates, this exposes the vulnerability to the world. This includes hackers. This means everyone is on bought time once an update comes out, because hackers know that not everyone will update.
Older Operating Systems Have the Highest Risk
If you are running a version of Windows (or any software) that has reached the end of its developmental and support life, you are playing with fire.
For example, if you are still running Windows Vista (please, I hope you aren’t) then Microsoft’s mainstream support ended in April 2012. They offered extended support up until April 2017.
Mainstream support is when Microsoft is still providing features, security updates, patching bugs, and more. Extended support is when Microsoft stops adding new features and only provides bug fixes and patches, and only provided that you are on the exact version of the software or operating system that Microsoft says they are supporting.
Back to our example of running Windows Vista (my fingers crossed that this example is purely hypothetical and nobody is still using Vista), it’s pretty clear that Windows Vista was not the shining example of the perfect operating system and that by the end of life there were no flaws whatsoever for hackers to target. If you are running Vista now, you are constantly wide open for any threats that the operating system doesn’t have protections against.
Microsoft’s Upcoming Support Lifestyle End Dates
Here’s a list of the current operating system and server end-of-life dates.
Windows Operating System
- Windows XP - April 8, 2014
- Windows Vista - April 11, 2017
- Windows 7 - January 14, 2020 (It’s coming up!)
- Windows 8 - January 10, 2023
- Windows 10 - Estimated for October 2025
Microsoft Server Operating Systems
- Windows Server 2008 - July 12, 2011
- Windows Server 2008 (SP2) - January 14, 2020 (just around the corner!)
- Windows Server 2008 R2 - April 9, 2013
- Windows Server 2008 R2 (SP1) - January 14, 2020 (It’s almost here!)
- Windows Server 2012 - October 10, 2023
- Windows Server 2012 R2 - October 10, 2023
- Windows Server 2016 - January 11, 2027
- Windows Server 2016 Semi-Annual Channel 1709 - Not announced yet
- Windows Server 2016 Semi-Annual Channel 1803 - Not announced yet
- Lync 2013 - April 11, 2023
- Skype for Business 2015 - October 14, 2025
Microsoft SQL Server
- SQL Server 2005 (SP4) - April 12, 2016
- SQL Server 2008 (SP4) - July 9, 2019 (It’s HERE!)
- SQL Server 2008 R2 - July 10, 2012
- SQL Server 2008 (SP3) - July 9, 2019 (It’s HERE!)
- SQL Server 2012 - January 14, 2014
- SQL Server 2012 (SP3) - July 12, 2022
- SQL Server 2014 - July 12, 2016
- SQL Server 2014 (SP2) - July 9, 2024
- SQL Server 2016 - January 9, 2018
- SQL Server 2016 (SP1) - July 14, 2026
- SQL Server 2017 - October 12, 2026
- Exchange 2007 - January 13, 2009
- Exchange 2007 (SP3) - April 11, 2017
- Exchange 2010 - October 11, 2010
- Exchange 2010 (SP3) - January 14, 2020 (Get ready!)
- Exchange 2013 - April 11, 2023
- Exchange 2013 (SP1) - April 11, 2023
- Exchange 2016 - October 14, 2025
- SharePoint 2010 - July 10, 2012
- SharePoint 2010 (SP2) - October 13, 2020 (Just over a year away!)
- SharePoint 2013 - April 14, 2015
- SharePoint 2013 (SP1) - April 11, 2023
- SharePoint 2016 - July 14, 2026
If you are running outdated software, you are putting yourself, your business, your employees, and your clients at risk. Want help planning your next upgrade? Reach out to WheelHouse IT at (877) 771-2384 to get an idea of what it will take.