NewsFebruary 7, 2017 @ 11:00 AM

XP Lives On as an ATM Operating System in India

The Indian government revealed that over 70 percent of the automated teller machines (ATMs) in the country currently run Windows XP. Since this particular flavor of Windows has not been updated since 2014, its widespread use as an ATM operating system is concerning. Cybercriminals can exploit the many well-known system security issues that affect this outdated system.

A Massive Migration

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government was working with “banks and other parties” to upgrade these machines, according to Softpedia. He reported that roughly 22,000 ATMs would need to be migrated to more current systems — likely Windows 10.

Jaitley did not provide a target date for such a migration, nor did he specify the hardware or software it would require. The finance minister did, however, admit that it would take a long time to complete.

Microsoft Supports Its Outdated ATM Operating System

To keep the ATMs up and running, Jaitley noted, some stakeholders engaged Microsoft to provide custom support for their specific machines. While this support enabled the machines to function, the migration from XP should still be carried out as soon as possible.

This situation highlights the problem with older technologies: When tools fall behind the times, they require capital to upgrade. In this case, while most big banks with plenty of resources continually upgrade their machines, the ATMs typically found in convenience stores and other retail locations have fallen behind.

Stakeholders Don’t Feel the Pain

Although any reasonable threat model for an ATM will include breaching, stakeholders may not be able to see actual breaches occurring or understand the issues stemming from outdated machines. In other words, they may not be feeling the pain.

The economic incentive to replace these machines may actually be negative, since there is currently no standard hardware or software platform. Why migrate at all if you are not sure where you are migrating to? However, failure to do so puts ATM users — their customers — at risk.

The current situation suggests that India has a long way to go when it comes to securing ATMs today and in the future.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.