Securing Non-Traditional Computing Environments– Or… Not

Securing Non-Traditional Computing Environments– Or… Not

May 26

In doing research on non-traditional computer environments, I’ve come realize that it may not be that these industries haven’t embraced new technology, but rather take the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Take the U.S. government for example: “60 Minutes” reported last month that the computers in charge of the country’s nuclear missiles are managed through the use of floppy disks.

Yes, those really big floppy disks. When I read that, I recalled the early Macintosh computers where you had to put in the start-up disk before you could turn it on.

There are lots of other instances where industries are staying with what they know. Automatic teller machines are one of them.

The Washington Post reported last month that 95 percent of ATMs were running Windows XP as of the beginning of 2014. Even though Microsoft was discontinuing the updates for it as of April 8, the Post reported stats from the ATM Industry Association that only 38 percent of ATMs were expected to upgrade to a newer operating system.

Even utility plants are using old operating systems. Forbes reported this week that 75 percent of water utilities continue to run XP.

The reason? It’s like I said before, if it didn’t need to be changed, it wasn’t. GE Intelligent Platforms’ Matt Wells told Forbes the machines that run all of those utilities are big and expensive, usually built to last some 30 years.

So if these organizations are still using “old school” technology, how vulnerable can they be?

Though there have been instances of hacking into utilities, Forbes reported that not many have jumped to do anything about it, stating that because they weren’t connected to a network, plus the corporate IT and manufacturing IT aren’t always working together.

The government facilities housing the nuclear weapons were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and CBS reported that few if any had ever been upgraded. Government officials even made a good case for it, saying the system, even as old school as it was, remained safe.

“A few years ago we did a complete analysis of our entire network,” Maj. Gen Jack Weinstein, who oversees three of the nuclear bases, said. “Cyber engineers found out that the system is extremely safe and extremely secure in the way it’s developed.”

Over to the ATMs, the Post reported one anti-virus vendor found computer hackers that could make ATMs produce cash by sending it a text message.

Doing a simple Internet search yields tons of articles saying that cyber attacks on ATMs are eminent, but few are saying that something has happened since the ATMs are now in a computing environment without the aid of updates.

PC World reported that even the U.S. Secret Service still uses a computer mainframe from the 1980s and apparently have little problem with it only working about 60 percent of the time.

From what is out there, it seems that until there is a major instance of hacking, things will probably stay the way they are.

Photo Credit: Ed Brambley via Fotopedia