Windows XP reached end of support last year and now it’s time for another end of life—Windows Server 2003. On July 14, 2015, this widely deployed Microsoft operating system will reach its end of life—a long run since its launch in April 2003. Estimates on the number of still-active Windows Server 2003 users vary from 2.6 to 11 million.
But this new end of life will raise a whole new set of challenges. Unlike Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 is a server operating system. While Windows XP is used in home PCs and enterprise workstations/laptops, Windows 2003 offers a deeper attack surface across enterprise servers. Windows Server 2003 is (still) widely deployed for core business functions as Directory Server, File Server, DNS Server, and Email Server. Organizations depend on it to run critical business applications and support their internal services like Active Directory, File Sharing, and hosting internal websites.
When support ends for Windows Server 2003, there won’t be a mechanism to keep it up to date, which is critical in preventing security issues. Typically, security issues would be resolved by regular support for an operating system, which involves:
- Getting security updates to protect against vulnerabilities
- Getting regular support on almost any issue with the product
- Getting non-security updates, i.e., the ‘regular’ bug fixes
Understanding the risk
End of life for an operating system—specifically for Windows Server 2003—means the beginning of a lot of effort for your IT department. Organizations like yours must prepare to deal with missing security updates, compliance issues, fighting malware, and other non-security bugs. You will no longer receive patches for security issues or notifications of vulnerabilities. And you will no longer know when there are vulnerabilities that affect your servers.
At the time of launch, Windows 2003 was as a much safer alternative to Windows 2000. Over time, it became clear that it had its own share of vulnerabilities. CVE Details notes that organizations with Windows Server 2003 faced close to 403 vulnerabilities with 27% of them being remote code execution vulnerabilities. Without notifications to help monitor and measure the risk associated with these vulnerabilities, you may be left facing a big hole in your server security.
To understand the risk further, let’s see how a similar situation played out for Windows 2000, which reached its end of support on July 13, 2010. There have been several vulnerabilities reported in other versions of Windows operating systems since then. But how many of them affected Windows 2000? One example would be the vulnerability MS10-061, which did affect Windows 2000. It should be noted that there was no security patch for it.
Unfortunately, you could be facing a similar situation for Windows Server 2003. After July 14, you will no longer be notified of new vulnerabilities and there will no longer be any notifications or patches available to help protect your systems. But you can still take action to keep your out-of-date systems secure before it’s too late. Now is the time for serious planning and careful risk assessment.
What should system administrators do?
Migrating to a more recent operating system is definitely the preferred option. But many organizations may face a number of barriers to timely migration—constraints such as limited budget, lack of technical expertise, and reliance on legacy applications.
Knowing that many organizations will delay migration, attackers will be actively looking for valuable data on out-of-support servers. To prevent intrusions, you need to assess the risk of the data residing on those servers. You need to determine whether the data is secured by itself. If not, you need to ensure advanced security controls are in place. The security capabilities that will best help you to maximize protection of your Windows Server 2003 environment include intrusion prevention system, integrity monitoring, and anti-malware solutions.
How can Trend Micro help?
Trend Micro Deep Security uses a combination of the best technologies to protect all of your servers, whether they are out of support or not. Trend Micro Intrusion Prevention System uses virtual patching to help you protect against vulnerabilities in your operating system and in applications running on those servers. It also helps to keep malware off your servers using the power of the Trend Micro Smart Protection Network (SPN) to share critical information.
Finally, Deep Security helps you monitor any suspicious system changes to your servers using their integrity monitoring capabilities. You can rest easy knowing that you have maximum protection for your end-of-life servers until you can migrate to newer platforms.
Stay up to date on vulnerabilities and to learn more about how Trend Micro can help protect your organization.