Server 2003 end of life poses cyber security challenges

News of Windows Server 2003's imminent end of life - slated for mid-July 2015 - has the IT community abuzz with a variety of conversation threads. Update strategies, migration techniques and application overhauls are just a few of the topics making a splash in data center discussions everywhere, and with Sever 2003's ubiquity in IT blueprints worldwide, there will be plenty of support for tech leaders to overcome these initial roadblocks. However, security concerns comprise an entire area of risk that must also be accounted for as the deadline draws near.

A global vulnerability
Organizations worldwide are already on high alert in light of the cyber security crisis taking place across the private sector and the perennial hazards of state-sponsored attacks on government agencies. Now that Microsoft is withdrawing support for its widely-used Server 2003 platform, data centers around the globe may be subject to a number of vulnerabilities resulting from the absence of automatic updates, patches or online assistance that had previously provided assurance against digital threats, Infosecurity Magazine explained.

"Computer systems running unsupported software are exposed to an elevated risk to cybersecurity dangers, such as malicious attacks or electronic data loss," stated a recent warning from the Department of Homeland Security Computer Emergency Readiness Team, according to the source. "Using unsupported software may increase the risks of viruses and other security threats. Negative consequences could include loss of confidentiality, integrity, and or availability of data, system resources and business assets."

With more than 24 million servers worldwide running Server 2003, the security risks that will accompany its end of life are both acute and far-reaching, especially as cybercriminal organizations form more cohesive and well-orchestrated attacks. IT leaders must heed the advice of the U.S. CERT and ensure that their migration plans, whether they be to virtual or physical environments, are fully secured. Coordinating their efforts with the guidance of a dedicated security provider can be a key factor in the protection of digital assets in transit.

Getting a head start
Even though Microsoft will support Windows Server 2003 for the next eight months or so, IT leaders owe it to themselves and their organizations to start developing an exit strategy sooner rather than later. Identifying which applications and data sets require the greatest level of protection, while determining which systems aren't as mission-critical, is a good first step for any tech department housing assets on systems running Server 2003. This preliminary measure will also be key for ensuring a smooth migration process when the time comes.

As a recent article from Computerworld pointed out, leaving Server 2003 behind is not only a smart move for the protection of data center systems, but for the financial future of any firm. The source noted that maintenance for outdated servers will cost an average of $1500 per unit annually - and ramp up even further as legacy assets age. For the safety and fiscal wellbeing of their organizations, tech leaders should initiate their migration strategies as soon as possible.