When Microsoft announced the official end-of-support date for Windows XP, media around the world signaled this event as the end of an era.
But to enterprise security professionals, the end-of-support for 25% of the market is a terrifying prospect. Botnets, which rely on infecting computers with weak defenses, will become more powerful as XP support drops off.
Today marks the official end-of-support for Windows XP, which means no more security updates for Windows XP installations. Non-supported Windows XP installations will not get updates and will overtime become less secure and easier to hijack.
As millions of XP machine become less secure, we will see more Windows XP machines usurped and zombified for malicious web attacks. Now that Windows XP machines will be easier to hijack, more nodes will be available to botnets to make attacks on web servers. This will impact the day-to-day of CISOs and security professionals who’s job it is to protect web infrastructure from attacks.
While many organizations are focused on upgrading to more modern operating systems, it’s the devices that they have no control over that may end up doing the most damage. It boils down to this: while an enterprise may do everything right to upgrade and protect its own computers, they don’t control the millions of devices still running XP in the wild.
Vulnerable devices get compromised, and compromised devices become parts of a botnet. Botnets provide cybercriminals with a platform for everything from DDoS against websites to sophisticated account takeover and fraud. As official support for XP runs out, attackers will naturally rush in to take advantage of those left behind.
Here is a quick breakdown of the numbers to help quantify the significance.
Windows XP Usage Remains High
Industry statistics of operating system usage can vary wildly, and current estimates of XP usage range from 10% to 28% of the total operating systems used worldwide. With an estimated 2 billion PCs in world, that means that somewhere between 200 million to 580 million devices will be vulnerable by definition.
Source: NetMarketShare 2014
Windows XP Vulnerabilities Remain High
2013 was a busy year for new Windows XP vulnerabilities, with a total of 88 new vulnerabilities reported. For comparison, this is twice as many vulnerabilities as were observed in 2012. The comparative view of Microsoft CVEs shows that while XP is not the leading source of vulnerabilities, it remains a very significant source of new vulnerabilities.
Windows XP Infection Rates Remain High
Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report shows that while the popularity of XP is on par with other Windows operating systems, the infection rate is almost double that of more modern operating systems.
Source: Microsoft Security intelligence Report Volume 15
These statistics certainly favor the attackers. Even if enterprises manage the Windows XP end-of-life perfectly, all of the unprotected XP devices in the wild remain. This is why deflecting bots and automated threats has become so important for virtually any organization with an Internet-facing site or application.
Clarification: Wade Williamson wrote this article.