Microsoft recently announced the End-of-Support for Windows XP. First released in 2001, the operating system has sold at least one billion copies to date. It received a positive initial reception, but was criticized for its lack of driver support and security restrictions. Nevertheless, ICS and SCADA systems now widely employ this operating system and, even with its end-of-support date now passed, many users have decided to stick with it.
End-of-support for an operating system can be frightening. If you’ve ever hesitated to perform software updates on a working device for fear of it being permanently disabled or rendered temporarily unusable, then you have experienced the same dread that some network administrators of these systems undergo. Because of this reluctance to risk catastrophic failure, it’s possible that cyber-security is likely going to take a back seat to uninterrupted operation in certain circumstances.
Considering who these users are, this sends up alarms in the minds of some. ICS and SCADA systems are primarily employed in sensitive operational environments like gas, oil and power industry networks. However, experts in these industries are seemingly unafraid of the end-of-support of windows XP. There are several reasons for this, perhaps the most common of which is that many never really employed Microsoft’s support in the first place, choosing instead to create their own security patches and updates.
When asked how they plan to handle this situation, Steve Szabo, Director of Technical Sales for WIN-911, said, “It’s not really an issue. While we encourage our users to migrate to a more current and secure operating system, WIN-911 will continue to support products for XP for those users who, for whatever reason, decide to stay with that operating system.” He added, “That being said, some of the more advanced versions of WIN-911 run on the latest .NET technologies and are therefore not supported on XP in any case.”
To go routinely about their daily lives, the public needs power, gas, oil, water and other utility services. Should a software or operating system update go wrong in a critical application, the results could be disruptive in the extreme. In many cases, it is simply too risky to be updating software on a routine basis. No need to sound the alarm however. In most cases, ICS and SCADA end users can expect their XP platform to remain productive for the foreseeable future.