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Legacy Applications and Data in 2022 – What’s at Risk?

Despite the rapid evolution of business technology, where new innovations and cutting-edge services constantly vying for our attention, it is easy to forget that legacy applications account for over 30% of the workplace technology we use. Often listed among the top three causes of data breaches, these software programs are structurally embedded in many organisations with security architectures that are not up to the challenges of today’s sophisticated cyber threats.

What is a “Legacy Application?”

Typically, legacy applications (or legacy systems/software) refer to software that has passed its prime.  A system like this may no longer be supported by its original manufacturer, requiring expensive and time-consuming technical maintenance in order for it to continue functioning.  Often, these programs are so deeply ingrained in an organisation’s processes that replacing them seems like an insurmountable logistical challenge. As a result, business leaders are reluctant to embrace modernization.

In many settings, these systems still play an operational role, but their shortcomings are becoming increasingly apparent, particularly when it comes to data security.  Why are legacy applications inherently insecure?  This article will explain how legacy applications could be compromising your data, as well as how to fix them.

There are many legacy systems that date back to the 70s, 80s, and 90s, when cyber security was far less of a priority for software manufacturers.  Cultures of software development that prioritise speed of delivery over code robustness would result in software that had substantial flaws on the market.  Code flaws were often deferred, and many of them remained unresolved to this day, leaving many deficiencies and vulnerabilities.  Cyber criminals can exploit these security defects by exploiting many legacy systems.

Compounding concerns

Manufacturer-supported software should (in theory) become more secure over time, but unsupported legacy systems often become more vulnerable over time.  It can be difficult to maintain a paper trail and keep track of the finer details of a legacy system when updates, alterations and reconfigurations are performed over many years, often by different teams.  As a result, security teams have a hard time understanding all the vulnerabilities that exist, leaving them vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Aging Hardware

While software is immune from degradation, hardware isn’t, and with many legacy systems built on similarly obsolete hardware, downtime increases as time passes.  The use of unreliable hardware could lead to data corruption or loss in a worst-case scenario. In addition, legacy hardware is often incompatible with the latest security advances, leaving data storage more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Failure to keep pace with cyber threats

Legacy software that lacks ongoing support leaves cyber weaknesses unrepaired and data more susceptible to attack.  As a result of this lack of continued support, such systems lack the features and capabilities that the modern threat landscape demands.  Legacy systems rarely support security protocols such as multi-factor authentication and encryption standards.

Compliance Concerns

In light of both industry-specific and general compliance regulations (such as GDPR), small and large companies alike must take great care to protect sensitive data.  Data handlers are required to understand where personal information is stored, who has access to it, and what controls and technical instruments are in place to protect it under such legislation.  Legacy systems make it much harder to achieve these goals.  They often obstruct the implementation of the required security instruments, as mentioned above, but they also make data governance much more difficult, with information held in isolated silos with little central oversight.  


You can have the best security policies and ensure your team is up-to-date on cyber security best practices, but if you rely heavily on legacy systems, your efforts will be in vain.  Modern cyber threats are tenacious, sophisticated, and prevalent, and outdated systems lag decades behind their modern counterparts in terms of security features.  

We’ll explore legacy systems in our next article to see how they could be damaging your business.


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