Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows XP. The operating system still works, but as of today it is no longer protected by anti-virus software or security updates.
Kevin Morgan is the Assistant Director of Western Illinois’ University Technology. His team has spent the last year updating some 3,000 computers university-wide to Windows 7 to ensure that Microsoft's April 8th deadline does not put its entire network at risk.
“So potential hackers or people with malicious intent could take advantage of potential holes that nobody’s found in the software yet and if it’s connected to the university network either wired or wireless then that opens up the university’s data to possible breaches,” said Morgan. “It’s also potentially a problem that they may become warehouses for other propagation of malicious software. So maybe having a Windows XP machine that is compromised on the network poses a threat to other computers on the network by either propagating viruses or Trojans or just spamming other computers.”
The operating system upgrades were included under the university’s current contract with Microsoft. Additional costs for the project came from staff time, a few purchases of new computers when current models were too outdated to be updated and any necessary upgrades to make supplemental equipment compatible.
“If somebody’s got a scanner they’ve had for seven years and they love it. There may not be Windows 7 drivers or Windows 8 drivers for it,” Morgan said. “So before we actually upgraded a computer we wanted to know what needed to be purchased or replaced or updated and know what those compatibility issues are.”
Windows XP had a good run. It's been the preferred operating system for PC users for over a decade despite Microsoft releasing several other operating systems including Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
“A lot of users, myself included, once they get comfortable with their computer there’s always a little reluctance to change,” Morgan said. “We do have faculty and staff users that connect from their home computers to check their email, they may even do some work at home. So we have to be concerned about those potential risks as well from home users.”
Other colleges and universities have also been updating their networks. Though, Morgan says he’s heard that some aren’t as far into the process as Western Illinois.
“This could be similar to the Y2K scare where everybody was worked up and excited and really worried about what impact that would have on computers,” Morgan said. “But when the clock finally turned over it was more of a minor inconvenience than it was a large catastrophe. But when you are dealing student and university data there is always that worry and fear and taking that unnecessary risk.”
Morgan says University Technology is about 300 computers shy of having WIU’s network completely free of Windows XP.