Windows XP demise raises security and compatibility concerns

Computers currently running the Microsoft Windows XP operating system after April 2014, may have issues accessing university online systems and be vulnerable to numerous security threats. Microsoft announced it is ending support of Windows XP in April and will no longer offer security updates, bug fixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates. As a result, individuals may not be able to access some key university enterprise and cloud services, like Office 365 and SAP due to expected changes in support policies.

Upgrading the Windows operating system is offered at no cost for faculty and staff systems. From a sample size of over 5,000 UNL computers, Information Technology Services has identified approximately 8 percent are currently running XP. Of these, roughly half run on hardware that is not adequate to upgrade to a more current version of Windows. These percentages are slightly higher than Big Ten peers, several of which have already eliminated XP usage on their networks.

"We want to ensure that UNL is prepared for this end of support," said Neil Wineman, director, ITS Client Services. "We have discussed these statistics with the campus IT Leadership group. ITS is offering assistance to distributed IT staff by helping to identify priority users within departments and assist departments in developing hardware refresh strategies. We also have tools to inventory, access, report and image computers. Our virtualized desktop service may also be an option for labs and lightweight usage. We are also working with procurement services to develop a bulk purchase program that departments can make a joint purchase and benefit from a group discount if they choose to purchase a newer computer."

Individuals using personally-owned computers with the Windows XP operating system to access UNL systems from home via the internet may also need to upgrade in order to connect to campus systems.

"Windows XP is a 12-year old operating system," said Rick Haugerud, director of ITS security. "It has the highest virus and malware infection rate of all existing operating systems. The use of a virtual private network (VPN) is required to remotely access university data from off campus. After April, the VPN will not support the use of Windows XP."

Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is another major driver to migrate away from Windows XP, Haugerud said.

When Microsoft ends its support of XP, the number of vulnerabilities is expected to further increase as has been widely reported in the national media. The concern at UNL is that computers still running Windows XP will more likely be broken into which could expose data stored locally on those devices. Once compromised, there is the additional risk that these computers could also launch attacks against other devices or services on the campus network.

For faculty who rely on specialty applications and have compatibility concerns regarding upgrading from Windows XP, please contact Neil Wineman, Director, ITS Client Services at neil.wineman@unl.edu.

For more information about how ITS can assist in upgrading computers from XP to a newer version of Windows, contact the Computer Help Center via email to mysupport@unl.edu or call 472-3970 or (866) 472-3970.

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