Why the Windows 'XP-ocalypse' Matters to the Convenience Store Industry

What are the consequences of Microsoft ending support for old operating system?

ATM XP (CSP Daily News / Convenience Store Petroleum)

REDMOND, Wash. --Remember Y2K? While it was mostly a hyped-up "catastrophe," there was a real technology update issue behind it. April 8 represents a similar event, albeit not so hyped. It is Microsoft Corp.'s deadline to end support for the Windows XP operating system. While most PCs have not used XP in years, there is a certain computer most consumers interact with on a regular basis that probably still relies on it--and it may be in your convenience store.

The 12-year-old software powers more than 95% of the world's ATMs, Robert Johnston, a marketing director at Duluth, Ga.-based NCR Corp., the largest ATM supplier in the United States, told Bloomberg Businessweek. Microsoft's pledge to stop providing patches to address bugs could leave ATMs vulnerable to hacking, said the news agency.

XP no longer meets the needs of modern computing and does not have the cyber-security safeguards in place to protect against the current generation of threats, Tom Murphy, Remond, Wash.-based Microsoft's director of communications for Windows, told Bloomberg.

ATMs will keep running, said the report, but Microsoft will no longer release security fixes for the program. So if a new bug is discovered, ATM operators will need to find a way to squash it themselves.

While the vast majority of cash machines run XP, some of those use a variant of Microsoft's operating system called Windows Embedded. The software is designed specifically for appliances and industrial machines, such as ATMs, cash registers and thermostats. One version of XP Embedded will lose support next week at the same time as the PC platform. Another will keep getting patches until Jan. 12, 2016.

Avivah Litan, an analyst at research firm Gartner, said the problem is not especially urgent. Banks with ATMs running XP will "need to get off of it eventually, but it's not an emergency situation," she told the news agency.

Banks and cash-machine operators have long taken extra security precautions to wall off ATM software from hackers, Litan said.

"Our guidance is that all customers need to move off XP," said Murphy. "It's an operating system that is old and is not designed to keep people safe and secure."

Microsoft offers custom tech support to some of its biggest customers that should address any issues introduced by the April 8 deadline. JPMorgan is buying a one-year extension, Bloomberg said.