Most ATMs in the U.S. will remain on Windows XP after Microsoft's pulls plug on OS

Jaikumar Vijayan

More than six out of 10 ATM machines in the country will be running on an obsolete operating system when Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows XP on April 8, raising serious security and compliance issues for the systems' operators.

According to the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA), about 38% of the nearly 425,000 ATMs in the U.S. that are powered by Windows XP will have migrated off the OS by next month's deadline.

Operators of the remaining quarter million or more machines will have an increasingly hard time supporting their systems and ensuring sufficient software security after that date.

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), which is responsible for overseeing security standards in the payments industry, has already noted that ATMs still on Windows XP after April 8 will need to have certain compensating controls in place to be considered PCI compliant. The PCI SSC estimates that Windows XP powers 95% of ATMs in the world.

"The vast majority [of ATM operators] are aware of the deadline," said David Tente, executive director USA of the ATMIA.

Many operators have already moved or are in the process of moving their systems to Windows 7, which is the next available Windows upgrade for ATM systems, Tente said. But for a majority, the cost and time involved in upgrading their systems to a new OS is a huge challenge, he said.

Several financial institutions have worked out, and at great cost, arrangements with Microsoft to keep Windows support available for a while longer, he said.

In many cases, upgrading an ATM's operating system involves physical access to the machine and about one hour's worth of labor. Not all ATMs will be ready to migrate to Windows 7 and may need hardware upgrades as well, Tente said.

According to Tente, independent operators run about half the ATMs in the U.S., while large financial networks operate the rest. A "fair number" of installed ATMs are powered by Windows CE and embedded versions of Windows XP, which are not affected by the April 8 deadline, he said.

Microsoft has said that it will cease support for Windows XP after April 8. After that date, the company will stop providing security updates or technical support for Windows XP, an operating system that still has a huge installed base around the world.

Microsoft has pointedly noted that PCs running Windows XP after end-of-support, should not be considered as protected and has urged users of the operating system to move to a newer version as soon as possible.

According to Tente, it is quite possible that malicious attackers are waiting until after April 8 to attack ATMs and other systems running Windows XP. But just because a system remains on Windows XP after that date does not automatically make it more vulnerable. "An ATM on April 9th is going to be just as secure as it was on April 7th," if operators have the proper measures in place for protecting them, Tente said.

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