Freedom of Information requests reveal nearly 50% of English councils still using unsupported server software

Freedom of Information requests undertaken by COMPAREX UK have highlighted a number of security vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructures of many English councils. The requests, which were submitted to all London Borough, Metropolitan and County Councils in England, subsequently highlighted that nearly half (46%) 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 that customers no longer receive regular security patches.

Almost a quarter (24%) 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%) indicated plans to upgrade within the next two years. Nearly two-fifths (38%) of councils said they were running Microsoft SQL Server 2005, with the majority (88%) stating they were planning to upgrade in the next couple of years.

Upgrading software is becoming increasingly important, as the threat of cyber crime continues to grow. Typically, malware developers and cyber criminals closely track vulnerabilities in out-of-date software and work backwards to exploit them.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“By continuing to run out-of-date server software, many councils are exposing themselves to a host of security and compliance risks,” said Chris Bartlett, business unit director for the public sector at COMPAREX UK. “The Freedom of Information data suggests that matters are slowly improving, as separate requests to London Borough Councils back in 2016 showed that 70% were running unsupported server software. However, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation now in full effect, councils need to be even more cognisant of vulnerabilities, and especially so considering the volume of citizen data they hold. With this in mind, it’s important that risks are managed and that councils establish an upgrade strategy.”

94% of councils said they were also currently running Windows Server 2008, while the same percentage 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 Freedom of Information data revealed that just 13% of councils are currently paying for extended support for Windows Server 2008, while 9% are 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, subsequently leaving themselves open to security vulnerabilities.

“The Freedom of Information data presents a worrying picture,” added Bartlett. “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 such that they can make better informed upgrade decisions. Many councils may also be delaying upgrades for fear of the potential cost and disruption this 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.”

Freedom of Information requests were submitted to 95 English councils by COMPAREX in April this year and collected in May. The 32 London Borough Councils yielded 24 whole or partial responses. Requests made of the 36 Metropolitan Councils derived 32 whole or partial responses and the 27 County Councils contacted led to 25 whole or partial responses. The percentages quoted are based on the total number of responses given to each question, (which differs from question to question), excluding ‘Not applicable’ responses.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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