Plant & Works Engineering

End of XP support could affect thousands of industrial systems

Published:  25 April, 2014

Support for Windows XP officially ceased on April 8, 2014. In effect, Windows will no longer provide users with security updates or technical support for the 12 year-old operating system.

Windows has 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.”

Issue will impact industrial automation

The discontinued support could impact upon millions of both personal and professional users worldwide, including the many companies that have implemented Windows XP in industrial automation applications. As the longest-supported Windows operating system, XP is most widely used in industrial automation, which means that potential issues arising from the discontinued support could affect a large number of end users.

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 (IPCs) and distributed control systems (DCS).

Industrial automation’s market response

Since the original announcement in 2007 that XP support will end in April 2014, many end users have upgraded to more modern operating systems that Microsoft says will continue to be supported. Larger companies—especially those driven by IT departments—were typically more proactive in making advance preparations to upgrade early where necessary. In contrast, smaller companies—those that may be less driven by IT—have delayed upgrades until absolutely necessary, with many yet to convert.

Although a large number of end users have migrated in recent years and there is a requirement for many more to follow during the next 12 months, IHS believes that the overall impact on the industrial automation equipment market will be fairly modest. To be sure, a large stock of older equipment with basic flaws in its security architecture remains that could prove problematic. And XP is just one example of an area that will require compensating controls for necessary security requirements in an organisation to be met.