Windows XP: There’s more around than you expect

Jenny Carpenter

Everyone who works in the world of IT is aware (or should be aware) that official support will cease for Windows XP on April 8, 2014.

It’s easy for individual IT professionals to only think of how XP’s end of life (which also applies to Exchange 2003 and Office 2003) affects them personally. For organized small and medium businesses, dealing with the deadline could be little more than migrating the last few affected servers or PCs. However, in the grand scheme of things, XP is still found in all kinds of unexpected places.

Microsoft released many different versions of XP, and not just the different flavors such as “Home”, “Professional” and “Media Center Edition”. These are the editions people usually think about when XP is mentioned, but there are other versions as well:

  • XP Embedded
  • XP Embedded for Point of Service
  • XP Tablet PC Edition
  • Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
  • XP Professional Blade PC Edition

So where are these less well-known editions of Windows XP being used? Well, given that XP will soon become inherently “insecure”, the answer is rather worrying. Some of the places that these editions are used include:

  • Cashpoint (ATM) machines
  • Restaurant and shop payment systems
  • Telecoms systems
  • Heating and air conditioning systems

Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done by major companies in the weeks ahead. Cyber criminals are sure to be ready for April 8, 2014 – businesses must be ready too.

These lesser-known versions of Windows XP are no more inherently secure than the standard business and consumer editions of the software. They are still vulnerable to the same sort of threats. Microsoft didn’t always strip unnecessary features out of these versions, leaving the likes of XP Embedded equally at risk.

Many of these systems are running what could reasonably be defined as “critical infrastructure” so the idea of a high-profile security breach in the weeks and months after XP support is officially withdrawn isn’t too hard to imagine.

If you are responsible for an SMB IT infrastructure, you should probably breathe a sigh of relief that your XP-related worries aren’t quite as high profile as, say, cash machines.  But now is not the time to relax! Make sure your plan is in place for replacing your last XP systems (and replacing Office 2003 and Exchange 2003). And don’t forget to look in “unlikely” places where XP may be hiding: access control systems and EPOS systems are two good examples.