Two very smart entrepreneurs just learned how easily their small business could be hacked. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you, too. USA TODAY

Business owners should take a close look at their information technology budgets for the coming year. Microsoft is ending support for several of their most popular business products in January 2020. As a result, 2019 will be the last year to replace these products before subjecting your business and customer data to potential security vulnerabilities.

In the event your business is using any of the below-listed operating systems, it is imperative you factor the costs associated with upgrading software into your 2019 budget.

Desktop Software going end-of-support:

  • Windows 7 reaches end of support on Jan. 14, 2020.
  • Office 2010 on reaches end of support on Oct. 13, 2020.

Server software going end-of-support:

  • Windows Server 2008 and 2008R2 reach end of support on Jan. 14, 2020.
  • Exchange Server 2010 reaches end of support on Jan. 14, 2020.
  • SQL Server 2008 reaches end of support on July 9, 2019.

Businesses who fail to upgrade to the latest versions of these products will be left without support and security updates from Microsoft following their respective expiration dates.

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It is commonplace for many businesses to neglect upgrading their internal software under the assumption nobody wants to steal their data. There is also a prevailing attitude amongst some in the information technology field that delaying upgrades is a minimal risk given they have other layers of security within their environment that helps circumvent the risk of their systems no longer receiving security updates from Microsoft, which are released monthly.

Failure to upgrade, in actuality, is a monumental risk as unsupported and unpatched operating systems are easily exploited. As Microsoft releases patches for the newer versions of their software, malicious individuals will then reverse-engineer those updates to identify and exploit vulnerabilities that exist in older versions — namely, the operating systems listed above, which are amongst the most widely used in the world.

Careful analysis of these operating systems and the hardware they run on is key to making well-educated monetary decisions regarding their upgrade or replacement. For instance, while it is possible to upgrade a Windows 7 desktop to Windows 10 for roughly $100, it may also be the desktop hardware is older than five years and in need of replacement. In this situation, the wiser decision would be to simply replace the desktop with a new version running Windows 10. Depending on how many desktops you need to replace, the cost can increase quickly.

The decision not to upgrade the above server operating systems, which comprise both email and database functionality for many businesses, is an even riskier choice. By not upgrading, you are putting both your internal communication data and client records in jeopardy.

A review of your internal inventory now may well save you headaches this time next year.

Tom Shanley is VP of operations for IQ Technology Solutions.

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