By Elliot Jager
Millions of U.S. government computers, including those at military and intelligence agencies, will still be running Windows XP after April 8 even though Microsoft Corp. will no longer be providing security patches for the operating system, The Washington Post reported.
Such computers — comprising an estimated 10 percent of inventory — could be susceptible to being hacked, jeopardizing other computers in their network, including those running current operating systems.
Windows XP came on stream in 2001, and Microsoft has been saying for six years that it would end free support in April 2014.
The Department of Homeland Security and the White House Office of Management and Budget alerted agencies in April 2012 that they needed to urgently transition from Windows XP.
The bulk of federal government computers are ready for the changeover. New hardware has been purchased, operating systems on older machines have been updated, and custom made applications designed to run on Windows XP have been overhauled.
Homeland Security has transitioned. Most of Defense and State are also ready, though some machines dedicated to classified data — presumably not running on a network — are still tethered to the old operating system. About 75 percent of Justice Department computers will be off Windows XP by the deadline and 98 percent of those at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some agencies, however, are decentralized and spokesmen could not say how well they were prepared for the deadline.
Some computers on Navy ships run on the old system using specialized software. Shifting over would necessitate re-engineering the hardware environment – hard to do while maintaining operations, a Pentagon information specialist told the Post.
Compared to the private sector and individual users, the government is actually ahead of the curve. Industry observers estimate that, globally, some 20 percent of computers are still running the obsolete operating system.
Nevertheless, critics say 10 percent of federal computers should not have been left susceptible to penetration. According to Steve Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, “There is something broken in the process if they are letting this many machines be un-updated at this point. Some of it is budget cuts. Some of it is not very good management, I suspect.”
Michael Silver, an analyst for the Gartner Research consulting firm, likened running Windows XP to “living in a bad neighborhood.”
Iranian and Chinese hackers have previously penetrated computers running Windows XP. Cyber attackers tend to lie in wait for vulnerable “end-of-life” operating systems to gain access to entire networks, the Post reported.
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