While Microsoft has made no secret over the fact that support for Windows XP would expire this year on April 8, the IRS is still using the now unsupported operating system. Security updates are no longer being provided by Microsoft and the danger is that bugs found in the XP OS may now be freely exploited by hackers. Oddly enough, Windows XP, although 13 years old, isn’t running only on those old, dusty, outdated computers typically found in the back of the neighbor’s closet. Windows XP is still used everywhere from the systems that run the lights for some cities to many ATMs. It can also be found in major hospitals and yes, even in the Internal Revenue Service.
According to Microsoft, the best defense against new threats is an operating system upgrade. To encourage die-hard XP users to upgrade to a newer OS, the company even began offering incentives and discounts almost a month in advance of support termination. However, it appears that some companies have continued to hold fast to the old set up. With technology changing and being enhanced on an almost daily basis, a 13 year old technological anything being regularly used is ancient and basically unheard of for an operating system; and because technology is changing and improving regularly, system bugs and security breaches that were either not apparent or an issue a decade ago can now threaten systems that run on such an outdated operating platform. It appears that it is not, nor has been for some time, cost effective for Microsoft to continue to support the old software.
While ending support for XP has been determined to be the correct course of action for Microsoft, many companies, such as the IRS, are still using the Windows XP operating system. In the case of the Internal Revenue Service, it has been reported that they will be paying millions of dollars to Microsoft just to receive special, extended support. The lack of support from Microsoft has made the operating system even more vulnerable and open to attacks and this government agency, which processes the nation’s secure personal information, has decided to continue to use this operating system. The IRS has at this time, decided that the best method of dealing with the vulnerability issues is to spend millions of dollars for private, extended support from Microsoft as opposed to upgrading their systems.
Information does indicate that the IRS will be upgrading its computer systems by the end of this year; but even with the upgrade, the agency will still be running less than the newest or best technology. It is reported that they will be upgrading their computers to Windows 7, which was released in 2009. While Windows 7 is, as of February 2014, the most widely used version of Windows, it is not the newest. The problem with the newest operating systems may be that some of the computers the agency uses might be too old to handle the download to the newest Microsoft operating system.
Currently, the fix the IRS has decided upon, as they are still running Windows XP, is to pay millions of dollars to Microsoft to continue to support the outdated operating system and then upgrade their computers to Windows 7 by the end of the year. The agency had the opportunity to upgrade to a different operating system before the end of last year, knowing that support was ending in April. While this upgrade may have alleviated some security issues and may have been more financially responsible, the IRS had not accomplished this task. The question to look for in the future, assuming the upgrade to Windows 7 is accomplished this year, is about how much longer Microsoft may continue to support an operating system which is already seven years old. Microsoft has stated that their support for Windows 7 will continue through the year 2020, which only gives the IRS a couple of years before another upgrade will need to occur.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG