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Widespread Windows XP Use Remains Among Businesses Despite End-of-Life: Survey

Windows 10 may be on the way, but many organizations are still stuck deep in the past when it comes to using versions of Microsoft's flagship operating system.

According to a survey from Bit9 + Carbon Black, many enterprises in the U.K. and the U.S. are still running Windows XP, which reached its end-of-life last year. The survey, which fielded responses from 500 medium and large businesses in those countries, found that 34 percent are still using a combination of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Another 10 percent continue to use Windows XP exclusively, bringing the total percentage of organizations in the survey using XP to 44 percent.

"More than a year after the end-of-support deadline for XP, the fact that 44 percent of companies surveyed are still using it is startling," said Chris Strand, PCIP, senior director of compliance and governance for Bit9 + Carbon Black, in a statement. "Companies that have been running Windows XP without compensating controls—such as application control combined with continuous monitoring solutions—have been exposed to a host of possible exploits that may have allowed hackers to take advantage of the vulnerabilities associated with the unsupported machines. These vulnerabilities could lead to the compromise of companies’ critical infrastructure and loss of essential information—including customers’ personal data."

Just as Windows XP reached its end-of-life last year, Windows Server 2003 will reach its end-of-life in July. This means that organizations could potentially be exposed to vulnerabilities that pop up as attackers continue to poke at the operating systems. 

According to the company's 'Windows Server 2003 End-of-Life Preparedness Survey' report, most of the organizations (86 percent) said they had an upgrade plan in place for Windows Server 2003, with most (94 percent) stating the plan was on track. Still, 14 percent of organizations running Windows Server 2003 said they had no plan to upgrade in place.

"For many organizations, application compatibility is the biggest barrier to upgrading," according to the report. "Many businesses either have hardware or business-critical applications that are incompatible with the available upgrades, leaving them with a tough decision that cannot be made quickly, if at all."

For companies who cannot migrate off those systems right away, it is important to use compensating controls.

"Although patching for XP and 2003 end-of-life will be rare, companies should still do the normal blocking and tackling, like proper network segmentation and patching applications that run on top of the OS," Ben Johnson, chief security strategist at Bit9 + Carbon Black, told SecurityWeek. "By doing this, the systems should have more scrutiny — more monitoring, more careful inspection of host activity and network traffic. Lastly, companies should enforce policies of change and execution like whitelisting or application control because reducing the amount of entropy that can exist on these systems will pay dividends. If it’s been around for that long, does it really need to have new software installed or any files changed? Most likely not."

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