Windows XP shift - ABB responds by creating a task force

2014-06-04 - Control systems customers worldwide face a critical situation after Microsoft in April ended support for Windows XP, prompting ABB to establish a Process Automation XP task force to coordinate replacement of systems still running the 12-year-old operating system.

The task force was formed to focus on development of cost effective, low-risk solutions that enable customers to mitigate this concern. Systems running XP could become targets for malicious software as hackers discover new vulnerabilities.

Antivirus software companies supporting XP will be unable to provide full protection and will discontinue development of new XP virus protection solutions. XP compliant hardware availability is also in question since most manufacturers are no longer testing for XP compliance.

ABB’s XP program is aimed at helping customers migrate to supported systems and includes representatives from every industry group and product group within the company. The task force is assessing various scenarios and will provide white papers and information to help customers understand the degree of threat to their business and the best possible solutions to address this issue.

ABB strongly recommends customers running Windows XP operating systems evaluate their system life cycle plans and risk mitigation strategy. Simultaneously, ABB is offering solutions that can remedy or mitigate risks and help customers better protect their plants and personnel while ensuring safe operations and continuous production.

Information and solutions are available
“This situation is difficult for our customers, many are unaware of the full degree of risk they assume by staying on XP,” said Dan Duncan, Mission XP Manager and VP, PA Lifecycle Service, Sales and Operations Manager. “Information and solutions are being made available to help customers understand how this will affect their operations.”

Services are available to help meet the needs of every customer, including customers who are unable to upgrade immediately, and customers who elect to remain on Windows XP.

Though Microsoft announced termination of support years ago, the arrival of the April 8, 2014, deadline arrived suddenly for many people: More than a quarter of the world’s industrial systems and government operations still rely on Windows XP.

According to Redmond, Wash.,-based Microsoft, “There will be no more security updates or technical support for the Windows XP operating system. It is very important that customers and partners migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 8.1. Customers moving to a modern operating system will benefit from dramatically enhanced security, broad device choice for a mobile workforce, higher user productivity, and a lower total cost of ownership through improved management capabilities.”

With this development, hardware manufacturers will no longer certify their products to support the XP operating system. Meanwhile XP compliant peripherals, network equipment, and computers are soon to be obsolete and unavailable.

And ABB cannot guarantee required security levels for customers who choose to remain on XP.

Security incidents on the rise
Generally, frequency of security incidents has increased significantly in recent years, raising the potential for unplanned systems shutdown or the specter of intrusion by cyber spies intent on stealing intellectual property or even sabotage.

Although no Windows XP-related cyber security attacks have been reported since the end of support on April 8th 2014 to date, Duncan said, “it is unreasonable to believe none are likely.”

Internet sites, including social media, are now rife with discussion of potential workarounds. Most recently, there’s a security update hack now circulating that promises another five years of protection, over Microsoft’s own warnings that it could cause problems.

Finding the most attractive solutions
Amid this uncertainty, ABB has reviewed solutions to help customers who are seeking workarounds but none of them have been approved as they have not been determined to fully mitigate risk and do not address hardware obsolesce.

Volker Jung, Group Vice President BU Control Technologies - ServiceVP, Control Technologies Services, has been named co-manager of the XP task force.

“Workarounds may appear to be attractive to customers but do not fully offer the right protection. We are currently working on finding the most cost-effective solutions,” Jung said.

Germany and Sweden are the latest countries to issue public statements that this issue represents a threat to economic stability and security and that immediate measures should be taken to evolve to supported solutions, he added.

Additional information will be provided as it becomes available. Customers with interest in finding the right solutions should contact their local service business unit for additional information, account planning and support.

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