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IRS Still Running Windows XP Despite Microsoft’s Warnings

The Internal Revenue Service missed the deadline to upgrade systems still running Windows XP and will be paying millions of dollars for security patches:

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) acknowledged this week that it missed the April 8 cut-off for Windows XP support, and will be paying Microsoft millions for an extra year of security patches.

Microsoft terminated Windows XP support on Tuesday when it shipped the final public patches for the nearly-13-year-old operating system. Without patches for vulnerabilities discovered in the future, XP systems will be at risk from cyber criminals who hijack the machines and plant malware on them.

During an IRS budget hearing Monday before the House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee, the chairman, Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) wondered why the agency had not wrapped up its Windows XP-to-Windows 7 move.

“Now we find out that you’ve been struggling to come up with $30 million to finish migrating to Windows 7, even though Microsoft announced in 2008 that it would stop supporting Windows XP past 2014,” Crenshaw said at the hearing. “I know you probably wish you’d already done that.”

According to the IRS, it has approximately 110,000 Windows-powered desktops and notebooks. Of those, 52,000, or about 47%, have been upgraded to Windows 7. The remainder continue to run the aged, now retired, XP.

John Koskinen, the commissioner of the IRS, defended the unfinished migration, saying that his agency had $300 million worth of IT improvements on hold because of budget issues. One of those was the XP-to-7 migration.

“You’re exactly right,” Koskinen said of Crenshaw’s point that everyone had fair warning of XP’s retirement. “It’s been some time where people knew Windows XP was going to disappear.”

But he stressed that the migration had to continue. “Windows XP will no longer be serviced, so we are very concerned if we don’t complete that work we’re going to have an unstable environment in terms of security,” Koskinen said.

According to Crenshaw, the IRS had previously said it would take $30 million out of its enforcement budget to finish the migration.

Part of that $30 million will be payment to Microsoft for what the Redmond, Wash. developer calls “Custom Support,” the label for a program that provides patches for critical vulnerabilities in a retired operating system.

The IRS apparently isn’t the only government agency in this situation, which only leads one to wonder exactly where all those government technology dollars have been going all these years.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    You do realize their budget was slashed in sequestration, and before then they were considered underfunded?

    I tell you, if a government can’t pay its tax collectors…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The federal government has an advantage not available to private companies: they’re not as vulnerable to liability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    @Tillman:

    I think you’re cutting them slack they don’t deserve, Tillman. Sequestration explains fiscal 2013. Windows 7 has been available since October 2009. Vista was released in November 2006. Does the IRS really have 50,000 ten year old systems?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave D says:

    @Dave Schuler: I work for a very large ag and chemical company and I still am running XP on one of my computers because it can interface much better with a bunch of critical software and databases we have than my other computer that has 7. And I plan on continuing to operate on XP until they disconnect us from the system. No one ever used Vista it was garbage from the beginning and a waste of money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  5. DC Loser says:

    Or we can do like the Canadians, who are paying MS $300k+ to support WinXP for another year for them.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/microsoft-ends-official-support-for-windows-xp-1.2601439

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. wr says:

    @Dave Schuler: The Republicans have been slashing IRS budges for years — apparently it gives them a tingly feeling to stick it to “the man,” despite the fact that the man is them.

    Not saying this is the only problem, but it is a serious one. One of two political parties in this country doesn’t think that government should be allowed to run efficiently, if only to prove their thesis that government doesn’t run efficiently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  7. DC Loser says:

    Many other parts of the government are still running WinXP, including the Intelligence Community on its Top Secret networks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. James Pearce says:

    A lot of people are still running XP……

    ATMs, POS systems, etc. Go to the movies and the pre-feature ads you see are playing on an XP machine. That will change soon, but not without a lot of meetings, money, and effort.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Tillman says:

    @Dave Schuler: My father was complaining about the shift from XP to 7 roughly two years ago at his company. According to him, RBC Centura was using Windows 97 up through 2006. Some bank ATMs are probably not upgraded either. So it’s not unusual for large bureaucracies to be slow about upgrading their systems. You have to remember, most big companies skipped Vista entirely.

    Post-2009, you also have to remember that the budgeting process went awry in Congress and most funding was done via continuing resolution, so I’m not at all surprised that the government was slower than even its usual slow self in upgrading its tech.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    @wr:

    ?

    I seem to recall that Democrats controlled both houses of the Congress for a while there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    The way I interpret what y’all are saying is that the federal government should never have installed Windows to begin with. Once you’re on the Microsoft treadmill, you’ve got to stay on the Microsoft treadmill.

    Over the years I’ve had two different agencies of the federal government as clients plus the Federal Reserve so I have a little idea of how the procurement and technological issues are viewed there. I think the federal government has a problem endemic to all large bureaucracies: they tend to overvalue legacy software, basing their valuation on what it cost to develop rather than what it would cost to replace.

    Specialized hardware is one thing; getting new device drivers for old hardware may be prohibitively expensive. Assuming your custom software will always run on the next Microsoft operating system is just bad planning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  12. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    the government never used Vista due to the problems with that version of windows. Also, the government is never the first one to adopt a new operating system. Given the massive installed legacy issues, the government probably did not start purchasing Windows 7 systems until sometime in 2010 or 2011. The government was still purchasing Windows XP systems in 2009. Also, given the push to make everything webable and the lack of need to upgrade to Office 2013, it makes sense that many organizations did not go on an upgrade path.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. Tillman says:

    @Dave Schuler: For the seven months between Franken’s swearing in (July 7, 2009) to Scott Brown’s? (February 4, 2010) Yeah, that’s a while I guess.

    @Dave Schuler: Microsoft decided to stop giving free updates for its system software because they realized their product didn’t have engineered obsolescence otherwise. They pass the cost onto consumers. This isn’t unusual in the tech world in the slightest.

    I’m not being too generous to the government – after all, Congressional Republicans have done a good job making hash of routine business – but I understand how they would’ve prioritized upgrading their systems even less than usual given the circumstances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    You should also remember that senior managers made their name using the old systems and usually want any new system to operate very similar to the old system. In doing consulting work for bolting on Environment, Health, and Safety systems to existing ERP software, I was amazed how many senior managers kept wanting to maintain the legacy businesses procedures instead of asking the software to do things that had not been done before.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    @superdestroyer:

    You should also remember that senior managers made their name using the old systems and usually want any new system to operate very similar to the old system.

    How well I know this! I encountered it in every government contract I had. Not only did they makes their bones on the old system, they wanted to get lucrative consulting work on those systems after they retired.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    It’s not just the government but private businesses as well. Updating is expensive for a major network plus between XP and Windows 7 we moved from 32 bit to 64 bit systems which means they probably need new machines as well. Plus there are all the applications that worked on XP but will not work on 7.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. I work for a state government agency which I won’t be disclosing, but the agency only updated its computer systems from Windows XP to Windows 7 last month. And the only reason that they did it at all was because the third-party contractor which provides them with IT services was going to start charging the agency a surcharge on every piece of equipment which was still using Windows XP. The problem is that the agency has some really old computer equipment that predates the contractor with the third-party contractor, which isn’t covered by the contract, and are so old they can’t be updated to Windows 7. The IT department’s suggestion? Don’t use Internet Explorer (when some internal web applications actually require Internet Explorer).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. @superdestroyer:

    The government was still purchasing Windows XP systems in 2009.

    I want to reinforce what superdestroyer is saying here. I received a laptop from my state government employer in 2012, according to the IT guy who I spoke to, the computer was purchased with a license for Windows 7 but was imaged with Windows XP by IT, despite knowing that XP would be obsolete in less than two years.

    @Ron Beasley:

    Updating is expensive for a major network plus between XP and Windows 7 we moved from 32 bit to 64 bit systems which means they probably need new machines as well.

    Windows 7 comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. It does have higher system requirements (namely at least 1 GB of ram on the 32-bit version) than XP, but not significantly so assuming the computer isn’t ancient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. wr says:

    @Dave Schuler: Yes. For about two months.

    Come on, Dave. You are a smart and sophisticated man who knows a lot about politics. Why play this kind of bullshit game?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. DrDaveT says:

    People, Congress hates the IRS so much that they refuse to fully fund the IRS’s tax collection efforts. Funds spent on tax compliance tend to return about 1000 to 1 to the treasury, since the amount of unpaid taxes is enormous and enforcement is relatively cheap. If Congress won’t fund THAT, what makes you think they’ll fund boring institutional infrastructure stuff?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    I forgot about the imaging issues. The guys in IT usually have a very steady image that they like upgrading the new systems means working out all of the issues.

    Image what happens as the government skips over Windows 8 because it is too different than Windows 7 and is not designed for enterprise usage.

    Another current issue I have with legacy issues is the senior mangers to refuse to play nice with cloud computing such as Sharepoint. Just the little change of having to check out a file seemed to something beyond what many mangers could do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Tyrell says:

    That could also account for the glitches, stops, stalls, freezes, and shutdowns with the Affordable Healthcare System. An upgrade from Windows 98 might just be the solution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  23. argon says:

    I still can’t get key software for my work on 64-bit windows versions. Some instrument control software never updated beyond XP because the vendor stopped making the those models. We just pull XP computers off the network or firewall them extensively.

    I’m not surprised that government software hasn’t made the transition. Perhaps this will spur greater movement to OS-agnostic applications (Of course that comes with its own problems…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. @argon: No way for you guys to emulate 32-bit Windows 7 or to use Windows XP Mode in Windows Virtual PC?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Mikey says:

    @Timothy Watson: I can’t speak for Argon, but where I work we’ve tried XP mode in Virtual PC for some of the applications our developers use and it sucks out loud. So we have a bunch of computers that we disconnected from the internet that still run XP and we pull the stuff off on CDs or external drives when it’s done.

    It’s a kludge and a pain, but we can’t get anything done otherwise. Compatibility settings don’t work either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. rudderpedals says:

    @Mikey: The configuration that failed for you, was it the one that The Reg documents at this article (touted as How to Cheat XP death)? http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/04/10/how_to_run_xp_on_new_windows/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Mikey says:

    @rudderpedals: It was indeed. The development environment they wanted to use absolutely hates XP Mode.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. rudderpedals says:

    @Mikey: Thank you you reminded me to make sure to get back my in circuit emulator for testing on a VM before I wipe the real XP installation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0