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The real security lesson Windows XP taught us is to challenge our assumptions

Michael Santarcangelo | April 9, 2014
Launched in October 2001, today (really) marks the end of support for the Windows XP operating system. As the 12+ year run of Windows XP comes to an end, it holds some curious lessons.

Launched in October 2001, today (really) marks the end of support for the Windows XP operating system. As the 12+ year run of Windows XP comes to an end, it holds some curious lessons.

As the lead discussion on the Down the Rabbithole Newscast this week, we covered the demise of Windows XP from a few different angles.

In the process, I realized the real lesson is hidden in the form of a question we need to ask more often.

Taking a moment to explore how we got here helps put the question is context.

Windows XP is done, What's the big deal?

Windows XP was, and remains popular for individuals and organizations. Estimates range from 18-30% of systems currently accessing the Internet use Windows XP.

That means that despite the notice, extension, and dire warnings of negative consequences, a large number of individuals and organizations simply opted to stick with what they had.

It's a curious finding.

An accepted "good" practice is to diligently review, test, and apply patches and updates to operating systems and applications. The number of people clinging to Windows XP suggests perhaps that this good practice needs a boost.

Or does it?

Contrast that experience with the reports surfacing this week that iOS 7 adoption is at 87%. Without question, this is not a direct comparison - especially given the difference between computers and servers versus mobile devices. And while there are other differences, the outcome is what needs to be studied.

Exploring why the adoption of iOS 7 is taking off even as people cling to Windows XP is important. Understanding the differences in approach holds clues for future efforts at upgrades.

Steps to take if you (or someone you know) is using Windows XP

Trey Ford wrote up a nice piece pointing out the role of service and taking the approach of an ambassador. It seems this may be a theme to revisit; a challenge we can tackle together, as an industry.

If you, or someone you know, is using Windows XP, then it means taking the effort to protect or replace the system(s) using it. That requires a structured conversation about business process, risks, and the steps necessary to upgrade.

Why has Windows XP stuck around?

Initial support ended in April of 2009, moving to a scenario of extended support that offered paid solutions and security updates. After warnings and even an extension, today is the day that all support options and updates end.

While many see today as the day people are finally forced to take action, the reality is some situations preclude that course of action. For example:

Purpose-built devices: some of these devices lack alternatives, are inaccessible or are governed by strict standards that prevent a change

 

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