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Windows XP expiration pushes rethinking of industrial op'n

Posted: 12 Nov 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Windows XP? automation? industrial?

The extended support and availability of security updates for Microsoft Windows XP will expire in April 2014. Asset owners needing to continue secure operation of industrial Windows XP applications beyond that deadline should soon think about their course of action. However, upgrading to a newer OS is not the only option.

Networked automation components with Microsoft Windows OS are widely used. Like PCs in office networks, they are at risk of known and new Windows security vulnerabilities that are continually being discovered and exploited. Microsoft does assure at least five years of mainstream support and an additional five years of extended support for its business OS products at current service pack level, during which time security updates are provided. The lifetime of industrial machinery and equipment, however, is often 15, 20, or even more years of operation.

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Figure 1: IPCs and embedded components with Microsoft Windows are widely used in industrial automation.

Following Windows 2000 that reached the end of its support lifecycle in July 2010 and more than 12 years after its initial release, the extended support for Windows XP will finally expire in April 2014. Whether for formal IT security guidelines or plain sanity and care: if you are restricting connectivity to your production network to systems with modern security this event puts you on the spot.

Proceeding with business as usual while keeping both eyes firmly shut is not a recommended course of action as can be seen from a few statistics. In 2012, Microsoft issued 39 security updates relevant for Windows XP SP3, including 25 with the highest classification of "critical" and another 14 at the next level of "important". Then from January to early July of 2013 alone, Microsoft released another 31 security updates for the system, 18 of them classified as "critical" and 13 as "important!" Most of the security vulnerabilities addressed with these updates can be exploited by attackers for unauthorised elevation of privileges or an execution of remote code on unprotected systems.

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