Nirvana for cybercriminals?

Today Microsoft is ending support for XP/Service Pack 2. According to reports there are still a lot of machines running XP/SP2. So this sounds like a serious problem, right? Actually, I’m not convinced of that.

Let’s look first at consumer machines – those which aren’t being centrally managed. Why would these machines still be running SP2? Obviously, Windows Updates must have been disabled. I can only think of two main reasons why that would be the case: either a malware infection which is somehow preventing WU from working, or people have disabling WU on pirate versions to be sure they can continue to use Windows without having to pay for it.

In the first case, infection already occurred. In the second case, it’s very unlikely that the machine was ever patched after the initial SP2 install. That means that such machines are vulnerable to any of the exploits that exploited XP vulnerabilities discovered after August 25, 2004, when SP2 was released. In other words, these computers have been vulnerable for a long, long time.

What about the business environments still running SP2? In the vast majority of cases the admins will have decided that the time just isn’t ripe for SP3. SP3 was released just over two years ago. If admins haven’t rolled out SP3 yet, it seems pretty unlikely that the other software they’re running – such as Office and Adobe Reader – is going to be up to date. These are the same companies that are still running Internet Explorer 6.

Given all this, I don’t think ending support for SP2 will create any sort of nirvana for cybercriminals. All the unpatched (and attackable) machines have been this way for a long time now – and chances are, if they were going to be infected, it would have happened a long time ago.

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