Utility safety: How the EOS for Windows XP will affect the utility industry

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Safety equipment: Belden Inc., a provider of signal transmission solutions for mission-critical applications, anticipates industrial organizations will face major challenges as a result of Microsoft’s discontinued support of the Windows XP operating system (OS) ­ the most popular OS for industrial applications. The end of service for this pervasive OS leaves many computers and devices vulnerable to security issues ­ whether accidental or deliberate ­ which could bring operations to a halt. Belden¹s industrial firewalls provide immediate cyber protection and allow companies to implement Windows XP upgrades according to their own timetable.

An estimated 300 million PCs worldwide run on the 12-year-old OS*, affecting users in a variety of industries, including automotive, consumer packaged goods, water/wastewater, and oil and gas. Without support or patches available, a security incident could disrupt production and lead to prolonged system downtime.

What isn’t so obvious is that Windows XP is prevalent in many critical infrastructure systems around the world, including factories, production sites and energy facilities. The OS can be found in ruggedized PCs performing mission-critical tasks, such as control, safety, asset management, and track and traceability. It is also embedded in thousands of devices that are used in factory automation and process control operations.

“The elimination of Windows XP support has forced our customers to examine the pervasive nature of this OS in their plant or factory ­ and the increased risk they now face, unless they do something to mitigate this looming issue,” said Frank Williams, senior manager for security at Belden. “The switchover leaves industrial devices exposed to security concerns and threatens to undermine operational uptime and productivity. Our goal is to guide industrial operations through this transition and minimize system downtime.”

For those responsible for industrial processes, there are three options for addressing the risk caused by the end of service of Windows XP for industrial applications:

1. Do nothing. Organizations can choose to ignore this issue and take no action. This option, however, could put their system at risk for a security-related incident or malware infection. If issues arise, there will be no security support available to fix them.

2. Upgrade to a new version of Windows. Upgrading the OS is necessary, but not an immediate solution. Upgrading an OS triggers a “domino effect” of upgrades, which requires significant time and effort to complete, and impacts operational productivity and cost. While the upgrade is in process, downtime risk still exists.

3. Install Belden’s industrial firewalls. This is an immediate security solution and offers several benefits. Industrial firewalls can be deployed into live networks without disrupting production; are simple to install and configure; are designed for industrial deployment with proper ruggedization and certification; and can be implemented without triggering any Windows XP upgrade “dominoes.”

“Tackling this challenge and determining the best course of action is something the IT and Operations teams need to come together to figure out. It’s not just an issue for one group ­ it’s a problem for the entire company to discuss and address,” said Williams. “Belden¹s industrial firewalls provide immediate peace of mind when it comes to accidental malware introductions or cyberattacks and give companies the freedom to migrate from Windows XP on their own schedule.”

To learn more about how the Windows XP end of service affects your organization and how to secure your network with Belden’s industrial solutions, download the white paper “Windows XP End of Service: Practical Options for Industrial Applications” at: http://info.belden.com/cyber-security-windows-xp-bc-lp.

For more information about Belden or other products, click here to go to Utility Products’ Buyers Guide.

*Source: MarketWatch (April 28, 2014).

 

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