Old Technology and The Threat of Security Vulnerabilities

Perform Partners
Perform Partners
31.07.2023  |  6 MIN
Mark Perrell employee spotlight captured near a white board

Empowering Higher Education Series: Old Technology and The Threat of Security Vulnerabilities

In today’s digital age, higher education institutions are increasingly dependent on technology to facilitate their academic, administrative, and research activities. Many universities and large institutions, however, continue to maintain old and outdated systems and technologies, which may lead to a compounded level of technical debt.

This can result in recurring challenges, including cybersecurity vulnerabilities. In this article, we will explore the link between outdated systems and security vulnerabilities, shedding light on the importance of optimising technology and infrastructure.

Threat Posed by Technical Debt

Data breaches could have severe consequences for higher education institutions and the individuals affected. According to Infosecurity Magazine, the education sector in the UK was hit far more by ransomware than in other countries in 2022.

Findings from a 2020 survey indicate that 54% of universities reported at least one data breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) within a one-year period.

“As the CEO of DigitalXRAID, I regularly grapple with the thorny issue of technical debt, particularly prevalent in higher education. Replacing systems that ostensibly do their jobs well might seem nonsensical, yet this perspective hides the true costs of keeping out-of-date technology.

Technical debt isn’t just a fashionable phrase or theoretical notion. It’s a real risk, especially when dealing with unsupported security patch-devoid systems. It’s akin to leaving your front door wide open; a security breach isn’t a possibility; it’s a certainty.”

– Rick Jones, CEO at DigitalXRAID

Despite these security challenges, the adoption of new technologies and the ability to secure existing systems in higher education is often hindered by budget constraints, complex integrations, lack of in-house capacity and capability, and some resistance to change. As a result, many institutions continue to rely on outdated systems implemented years ago.

What are the risks associated with outdated IT systems?

Lack of Security Features

Some systems may lack the necessary security features and updates to combat modern cyber threats effectively. As new and more sophisticated threats emerge, the lack of updates and effective defence exposes institutions to serious threats. Attackers can exploit legacy tech weaknesses to gain unauthorised access to sensitive data, compromise networks and take control.

Weak User Authentication & Inadequate Access Controls

Technical debt can also manifest in weak user authentication mechanisms and inadequate access controls. For instance, legacy systems may rely on outdated authentication protocols or weak password requirements, making it easier for attackers to crack passwords. Insufficient access controls may grant excessive privileges to users, increasing the potential for unauthorised access and data breaches.

Insufficient Training and Awareness

Poor processes can be hidden by technical debt and manifest through inadequate training and awareness programs for faculty, staff, and students. Without proper education on cybersecurity best practices, individuals may unknowingly fall victim to phishing attacks, social engineering techniques, or other malicious activities. This lack of awareness and poor process increases the likelihood of successful cyber intrusions and system compromises.

Proactive Risk Management and Compliance

Compliance with data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is a significant concern for UK higher education institutions. Outdated systems may not meet the stringent requirements outlined by regulatory bodies, leaving institutions vulnerable to legal and financial repercussions. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, a damaged reputation, and a loss of trust among students, staff, and stakeholders.

Mitigating The Risks

“Securing budget for upgrades might be challenging, but the discussion shouldn’t be about upfront costs. We need to underscore the potential pitfalls of keeping the status quo. Engaging senior stakeholders requires a conversation about risk and return on investment. This dialogue must be clear, highlighting the business impacts of potential security breaches, and moving away from tech jargon.

Quantifying the risk in terms of potential losses – data breaches, downtime, reputational damage – the narrative changes. The ‘cost’ of an upgrade pales compared to the ‘cost’ of ongoing technical debt. The ROI for new tech becomes about securing the institution’s critical data and reputation.

Investing in current, secure tech isn’t an expense; it’s an insurance for our educational institutions’ future safety and sustainability.”

– Rick Jones, CEO at DigitalXRAID

In addressing these risks, higher education institutions need to evaluate their IT infrastructure, holistic architecture, and processes to identify where the weaknesses are and how improvements can be made.

Transitioning to modern, supported systems reduces the risk of security vulnerabilities and subsequent damage. By proactively addressing technical debt and implementing process changes, higher education institutions can demonstrate their commitment to protecting the privacy and security of student and staff data. This proactive approach helps ensure compliance with data protection regulations and builds trust among stakeholders.

“I’ve seen first-hand the importance and impact of investing in future IT and resolving technical debt. It’s not merely a choice but a common sense strategic decision that should be on any business roadmap. Doing so enables us to innovate, enhance efficiency, and ensure long-term success.

Just as a solid foundation is essential for a building’s endurance, IT infrastructure requires a robust technological base. Tackling technical debt and sorting out the processes that often hang off it strengthens core operations, fostering confidence and agility for future growth. By untangling complexities, streamlining processes, and eliminating outdated technologies, we create an environment conducive to progress and innovation, which is a better workplace.

Resolving your old technologies and implementing better processes equips businesses with tools and capabilities to harness emerging technologies, seize new opportunities, and maintain or grow a competitive edge. It empowers teams to be more productive, creative, and collaborative, fostering a culture of continual improvement and innovation.

Beyond short-term gains, investing in the future of IT benefits everyone. Optimising your technology enhances user experiences, ensures reliable services, and builds trust and loyalty. It enables better integration with partners, co-creating value and forging strong alliances. It empowers your people by providing modern tools, fuelling their potential and driving a collective growth mindset.”

– Shaun Walsh, Co-Founder and Director at Perform Partners

We can help transform and modernise your tech. Our approach extends beyond systems and IT infrastructure. By conducting a thorough analysis, we evaluate the current state of your platforms, people, and processes, providing a comprehensive blueprint to help your organisation.

Perform Partners change management consultancy. Paul Rhodes and David Rush.

Optimise your business to build a stronger future!

Optimisation enables informed decision-making, allowing you to make the best use of your people, processes and technology. Chat with one of our SMEs and find out how you can secure a better future for your organisation.