13News Now Investigation: Windows XP security risk

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by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 24 at 6:40 PM

NORFOLK -- A deadline with major security consequences for computers across the country is just weeks away.

On April 8, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP, which means there will no longer be free security updates released for the operating system.

Windows XP is still used on computers in homes, businesses and governments across the country.

Nationally, the federal government has warned it will not be able to update all of its computers before the deadline.  The same is true for many of the city governments in Hampton Roads.

A survey of cities across the region found at least four will miss the April 8 deadline to upgrade their computers from Windows XP.

13News Now Chief Engineer Keith O'Malley explained that upgrading to a newer version of Windows is absolutely necessary.  Not upgrading comes with dire consequences.

"It's like leaving a door open," O'Malley said. "You don't want to leave a door open to the outside world. Once somebody bad gets in that door, all kinds of things can happen."

That's why cities have spent a lot of time and effort upgrading their machines.

The City of Virginia Beach has been working on upgrading its 5,600 computers since 2010, a process that has cost nearly $2.5 million.

"The City of Virginia Beach had to actually go through and analyze ever application, enterprise application and hardware throughout the city," Chief Technology Officer Darrell Riddick explained.

"It was a relatively large undertaking," he said. "Some of the equipment, hardware wise, that was not prepared to go to Windows 7, we actually had to go through and perform hardware upgrades."

Virginia Beach still has 76 computers running Windows XP. Most of those computers are used to run software that are not compatible with newer versions of Windows, which means other steps must be taken to secure those computers.

Those extra steps are necessary because just one unsecured computer can serve as a gateway to a city's entire network.

"Anything could happen," O'Malley said. "Once you leave that door open they can find a way into that one computer and when they find a way into that one computer they can go anywhere on your network."

That means thieves looking for personal information could used an unsecure computer to access sensitive data on city residents if proper steps aren't taken to separate the machines with outdated operating systems from the rest of the network.

Across Hampton Roads, many cities still have a lot of work to do until all of their computers are updated.

A spokeswoman for the City of Norfolk said 19% of the city's computers still need to be updated.

"We won't finish by April 8, but we have a plan to deal with it," city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said.

The City of Portsmouth did not provide a specific number of computers still running Windows XP but a spokeswoman said the city will not have all of its computers upgraded by the deadline.

Newport News has at least 132 computers that still need to be updated. A spokeswoman there said upgrades will likely not be completed until more money becomes available with the new budget year in July.

A spokeswoman for the City of Suffolk did not provide specific numbers but said the city was working to upgrade all of the computers used for public safety purposes by April 8. The process to upgrade other city computers, she said, will not be complete until June 15.

Leslie Fuentes, the Director of Information Technology for the City of Hampton, said the city has 159 devices scheduled for upgrades to Windows 7 and 223 devices scheduled to be retired or replaced by April 9.

A spokesman for the City of Chesapeake said there are only two city computers there still running Windows XP but those will both be replaced by April 8.

O'Malley said there is no reason for cities to be scrambling to upgrade computers because Microsoft first announced it would stop supporting Windows XP years ago.

"About two years ago, they made the release and they actually added a year to it," O'Malley said. "We've had plenty of warning. It's time to update."
 

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