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Critical Vulnerability in Critical Infrastructures

*Based on an article by Paula Januszkiewicz, Security Expert & Penetration Tester.

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft officially announced the end of support for the Windows XP operating system. January 14, 2020 was supposed to be the end of Windows 7, as Microsoft also announced the end of support for that operating system. In reality, both systems are alive.

It is nothing unusual to find end-of-support operating systems across the globe, operational in critical infrastructure as well as in health care facilities. According to Kaspersky’s survey from 2021, almost one quarter (24%) of PC users are still running a Windows OS without mainstream support.

There is a big problem, especially with operational technology (OT). It is designed to have a much longer lifespan than IT systems. OT systems are much more likely to include components that are 20-30 years old, or even older. Very often, security patches are not applied in OT systems. This is because these systems are expected to be operated with minimal interruptions. Updates, such as patches, may be considered as something that interferes with business continuity.

A few years back, this hesitance to patch OT systems was not a big issue because many industrial control systems (and human-machine interfaces used with them) were designed for isolated environments. In the last few years, especially after the introduction of pandemic measures, connectivity between OT and IT networks has been growing rapidly. This makes OT systems exposed on the internet.

Critical infrastructure is no longer in the safe bubble. And, by using outdated operating systems without support, this infrastructure is in an extremely dangerous position. Attackers have easy access to publicly available exploits and can deploy them anytime.

The critical operations of every organization should be protected and easily restored in case of cyber-attack.

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