Watch out for the end of Office 2003 support

The end of Windows XP support will leave many businesses open to serious security attacks if they don’t upgrade soon. But that’s not the only popular software that’s about to lose security patches. 

When XP support ends next April, Microsoft will also pull the plug on updates for Office 2003, which remains a popular version of the company’s productivity suite.

As with the 12-year-old operating system, Office 2003 will stop receiving security updates on April 8, 2014. After that day, experts predict cyber criminals will launch a number of new attacks aimed at exploiting vulnerabilities that will no longer be patched.

And much like XP, Office 2003 was very popular when it was released, and many organizations and consumers have stuck with the software. Newer versions haven’t added much if any important functionality, and documents created with more recent software is backwards compatible with Office 2003, so many have found little reason to upgrade.

Time to move on

Of course, as businesses and individuals have continued using Office 2003, hackers have kept their eye on the software. As Larry Seltzer from ZDNet points out, over the past year Microsoft has released 10 security patches for Office 2003, with half of them labelled as critical.

After April, those patches will stop coming, but the attacks will likely increase as cyber criminals know the vulnerabilities will remain open.

Fortunately, moving on from Office 2003 shouldn’t be as difficult as for XP — many organizations are sticking with the OS because they have legacy apps that need XP to run. With Office, there shouldn’t be any compatibility issues when switching to a new version.

One possible issue companies should keep in mind is user training. The Office interface has changed a bit from 2003 to the latest versions, and some people might need a hand getting used to it.

Organizations should also warn users to upgrade the software on their personal computers — especially the ones that are used to do work when the employees are home or travelling.

If the cost of upgrading is a concern for organizations or employees, there are several open source Microsoft Office alternatives available that experts recommend.

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