Councils in England are heading for a security disaster with many running out-of-date or soon to be unsupported versions of Java, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Java is one of the top targets of cyber criminals. According to the 2014 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Q1 Quarterly Report, half of all exploits target Java, which is worrying as outdated or unpatched versions introduce huge security holes.

Shockingly, only 6% of councils are running Java 8, the most up-to-date and secure version of the software.

It was found that 55% of councils are currently using Java 6 - a version that has been out of mainstream support since February 2013. The research also indicated that 55% have some software running on Java 7, support for which ends in April 2015.

The research was carried out by security software company Avecto.

Paul Kenyon, EVP at Avecto said: "With such a large market share combined with large volume of vulnerabilities and unpatched users, Java has created the perfect security storm which is causing a challenge for Councils.

"Java needs frequent maintenance with security patches needing to be rolled out regularly. Unsupported versions are essentially an open door to cyber criminals that target entry to systems via outdated applications or web browsing. Since councils handle a huge amount of sensitive data, it's critical to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

"Challenges that include compatibility issues when moving to the latest versions, are not an excuse for running unsupported software, particularly when Councils are given plenty of notice by the vendor.

"With cyber threats growing more sophisticated by the day, a defense in depth approach has never been more crucial for organisations. Making sure operating systems, apps and software are patched and up-to-date is one element, but this should be supplemented with staff training and proactive technologies that provide layers of security to keep organizations protected between patches."

Notes to editors

FOI requests were sent out to 46 councils in England during Q4 2014 and Q1 2015.

31 of the 46 councils responded. Of these, two councils were not willing to answer due to concerns around cyber security.