Windows XP Cyber Attacks? Government Agencies 'Unusually Vulnerable'

Image: Windows XP Cyber Attacks? Government Agencies 'Unusually Vulnerable'

Monday, 17 Mar 2014 12:06 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Windows XP computers used in government agencies will be "unusually vulnerable" to cyber attacks from hackers starting next month, the Washington Post reported.

"The deadline for installing secure operating systems on federal government computers will pass next month with the job incomplete, leaving hundreds of thousands of machines running outdated software and unusually vulnerable to hackers," the newspaper noted.

Federal officials have reportedly known for years that Microsoft would withdraw its free support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, but were unable to complete the necessary upgrades in time. Windows XP, which came on stream in 2001, is the operating system of an estimated 10 percent of the government's several million computers.

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In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House Office of Management and Budget reportedly alerted agencies that they needed to urgently transition from Windows XP.

"Once XP goes out of support and is no longer patched, you’ve just raised the vulnerability significantly on the whole Windows platform in your organization if you haven’t moved off XP," Richard Spires, former Department of Homeland Security chief information officer, told the Post, calling the situation an "urgent" problem.

In an apparent last ditch effort to extend protection for the Windows XP operating systems, several federal officials reportedly contacted Microsoft and requested that the tech giant push back the April 8 deadline, however the company declined.

Instead, Microsoft offered the government "custom support agreements" that would provide some of the prior protection for a fee. The Post reported that such "custom support agreements" are generally given to most XP users for free.

"For all the money we collectively give Microsoft, they were not too receptive to extending the deadline," an anonymous senior State Department official told the Post. "There was some grumbling that they were not willing to extend."

Whereas Homeland Security has already transitioned from Windows XP, the Defense and State Departments are said to still have computers that have yet to move to new operating systems. The Justice Department will have reportedly phased out 75 percent of its XP-running computers by the April 8 deadline, while Veterans Affairs will have gotten rid of 98 percent.

According to the Post, Iranian and Chinese hackers have in the past penetrated government computers that were using Windows XP operating systems.

"Running Windows XP is like living in a bad neighborhood," Gartner Research analyst Michael Silver told the Post. "Hopefully the government has done something to try to make these machines less vulnerable."

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