If you’re still running Windows XP in your plant, you better duck. Microsoft’s support for the XP operating system officially ended on April 8, 2014. Windows will no longer provide users with security updates or technical support for the 12-year-old system. Microsoft stated that “PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be protected, and it is important that you migrate to a current supported operating system.”
In a research note, IHS Technology
noted that cybersecurity is the largest concern related to the continued use of Windows XP in industrial automation.
“Without the ongoing security updates to protect systems from attacks, users will be exposed to new threats that can exploit vulnerabilities of the operating system. Such threats exist to industrial automation equipment operating on Windows XP, perhaps most notably industrial PCs and distributed control systems.”
HIS noted that many end users have upgraded to modern operating systems since the 2007 announcement that XP support would end in 2014. Larger companies -- especially those driven by IT departments -- have been more proactive in making advance preparations to upgrade from XP early. Smaller companies that are less driven by IT have delayed upgrades until absolutely necessary. Many have yet to convert.
According to Andrew Orbinson, an analyst for process, instrumentation, and machinery at IHS, XP users are now at risk for attacks. “Quite simply, there will be no future security updates for XP. The systems will continue to function, but will be more vulnerable to cyberattacks without the continued support,” he told Design News. “There are third-party companies that offer continued custom XP support; however, such solutions are more expensive and less reputable than Microsoft’s. These solutions are not expected to be widely implemented for control systems.”
Some plants still vulnerable
Orbinson noted that industry has had plenty of time to prepare for the discontinuation of XP, and that most companies have already moved on to newer systems. Even so, many plants are vulnerable. “Whilst IHS has not conducted a specific analysis on how widely XP is still deployed, we are aware that there are a considerable number of end users that are still using Windows XP despite its decline,” he told us.
Switching to a new operating system is no small matter for a plant. “The two main considerations are common to all upgrades -- cost and time,” said Orbinson. As for cost, a number of factors add up. “Implementing a new operating system for control systems throughout an organization takes a substantial investment,” he said. “Costs can include licenses, installation, assessments, consultancy, time, training, loss of productivity, modifications to internal XP-based systems and programs, as well as the many hidden costs.”