The final countdown for Windows XP

News by Steve Gold

Microsoft develops migration utility to smooth upgrades; warning pop-ups to appear from this week; University of Illinois to block XP-driven PCs

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The final countdown towards Windows XP's end-of-life on 8 April has now started, with Microsoft offering a free migration utility and announcing plans to start pop-up notifications very shortly to users of the 12-and-a-half-year-old desktop operating system. 

As news of Microsoft's plans were announced, the University of Illinois in the US revealed it plans to proactively block WinXP-based machines from the 8 April onwards.

People with University-owned WinXP computers are being encouraged to contact their department's IT professionals, whilst private owners will have to either upgrade to new systems or replace their computers, says the University.

As well as alerting users from this weekend via a pop-up alert, Microsoft has partnered with Laplink to create PCmover Express for Windows XP, a free utility that will copy user files from an old machine to a new one.

Research firm NetMarketShare says that WinXP currently accounts for around 29 percent of the desktop and laptop operating system market and is the second most popular to Windows 7 (47 percent), with Windows 8 trailing in with just 11 percent.

Professor John Walker, a Visiting Professor with Nottingham-Trent University's School of Science and Technology, said that the ageing operating system issue is not just confined to WinXP, as many corporates still have Windows NT-based systems that have not been updated.

"The challenge is that organisations do not deal with their security problems immediately, they leave it all to the last minute - or later. Then they panic," he said.

"If a company has Windows XP systems on its network, it will be targeted. This is especially true in the City of London, where cybercriminals are certain to target those institutions they know have XP machines on their network. The attackers will know these systems are vulnerable," he added.

Sven Schlueter, a Senior Consultant with Context Information Security, meanwhile, said that - come 8 April  when updates for WinXP cease - one of the main concerns from Microsoft is that security updates are released for later operating systems, which also affect the unsupported Microsoft Windows XP operating system.

A common process for an attacker, he says, would be to reverse the updates sent for supported operating systems to develop malicious software for WinXP.

"Companies running XP machines need to migrate to a more recent operating system, for example Windows 8.1. However, this is not always an easy task, because some software might be restricted to run on Windows XP only," he said.

"The same applies to the hardware used - some older hardware might not be supported by the latest Microsoft Windows any more," he added.

The Context IS security expert went on to say that, as long as a PC is connected to a network, or is available in an `unprotected environment,' it is not possible to keep XP secure.

It is, he explained, guaranteed that security vulnerabilities will be discovered and actively exploited for WinXP and the risk of an exploitation can only be minimised.

Schlueter's advice was echoed by Tim `TK' Keanini, CTO with Lancope, who said that anyone pro-actively removing Windows XP from their connected systems is doing the Internet as a whole a good service.

"This is how you act responsibly as an Internet participant," he said, citing the analogy of a herd of antelope on the move with the likelihood of encountering a lion on the hunt.

XP, he says, would be the one sitting still waiting to be eaten.

"Now that we are always connected to the Internet, we can no longer base our decision-making in isolation, we must always consider the threat. Now that businesses, organisations, and consumers are all connected to the Internet, the threat becomes a business problem and should be represented well at every business decision," he said.

“Being secure is a process much like evolution: organisms thrive and some die, the remaining shape the survival of the species and it grows more resilient to its hostile environment,” he added.

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