Nearly all of the ATMs in the world are running the Windows XP operating system, introduced by Microsoft 13 years ago -- and incredibly out of date, as any tech enthusiast will tell you.
On April 8, Microsoft will officially end the tech support for the aging OS, which was replaced by Windows Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009, Windows 8 in 2012 and Windows 8.1 in 2013.
What does 'end of support' mean?
Microsoft supported Windows XP for 12 years, with software patches and security updates. After April 8, 2014, technical assistance for the aging OS will no longer be available, the company says, including automatic updates that help protect PCs.
Microsoft will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP on this date.
Read more on Microsoft.com.
That means no further updates, including security patches to protect from viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, for the 420,000 ATMs in the United States, more than 95 percent of which run XP, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
“A lot of ATMs will have to either have their components upgraded or be discarded altogether and sold into the aftermarket—or just junked,” explained Suzanne Cluckey, the editor of ATM Marketplace, a news site that serves the industry.
If an ATM isn’t upgraded, it will continue to function, experts said. Withdrawals, deposits, and other transactions will work as they did before. But the machines will be more vulnerable to cyber robers wielding malware and other attacks as time goes on.
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Some of those aging machines will be upgraded to Windows 7 -- yes, the 4-year-old software, rather than the far newer versions on today’s computers. But few ATMs are even capable of that, said Aravinda Korala, chief executive officer of ATM software provider KAL.
'A lot of ATMs will have to either have their components upgraded or be discarded altogether ... or just junked.'
- Suzanne Cluckey, the editor of ATM Marketplace
“The ATM world is not really ready, and that’s not unusual,” he told Bloomberg. “ATMs move more slowly than PCs.” According to Korala, just 15 percent of U.S. ATMs will be ported to Windows 7 by that April 8 deadline.
Some banks said they were working on upgrades or buying one-year extensions. Upgrades to ATMs can cost thousands if new parts are required.
But here’s the rub: Microsoft ends mainstream support for Windows 7 on Jan. 13, 2015, however, and extended support only runs 5 years longer.
In other words, the ATM industry is struggling to kick the software can a few miles down the road, and this issue will simply crop up again.
And that’s something you can bank on.