As from July 11th, some 70 million users of the Windows OS will be left stranded without official support, and that includes no more security updates. By withdrawing support for its Windows 98, Windows 98 SE and Windows ME platforms, Microsoft is effectively leaving around 12.5 percent of Windows users open to hack attacks and malware exploits.
Of course, the counter argument is that users of these outdated legacy systems are leaving not only themselves open to attack but at the same time exposing large swathes of the Internet to attack as their machines become used as spam bots, host DDoS attacks and spread malware. It is not as if the withdrawing of support has been a closely guarded.
Microsoft intended to pull the support plug as long ago as January 2004 but gave users a reprieve of 2.5 years, which should be time enough for anyone to update their OS.
Already the effect is starting to show, even before the deadline is reached, as Microsoft has not developed a 98, 98SE or ME patch for the MS06-015 vulnerability, despite doing so for 2000, XP, and Server 2003 users.
Is this a case of Big Bad Bill and his Evil Empire? No, of course not. Can we really expect Microsoft to be trying to retroactively developing old operating systems, changing critical core components, just to pacify those who are too mean or stubborn to upgrade? The harsh truth is, I suspect, that the vast majority of 98 and ME users do not even know about official Microsoft support, do not apply patches, do already contribute more than their fair share to Internet insecurity. The combination of a legacy OS, an idiot user and broadband connectivity scares me more than a little. Do I feel sorry for them though? Do I ruddy heck as like! The only redeeming factor may be that many of the newer exploits will not run on such legacy platforms anyway. Even virus writers and hackers have some pride…
Who I do feel sorry for are the schools who simply cannot afford to upgrade from their legacy systems, who are already struggling to keep their systems secure, who see no way out of the vicious cycle of budget restrained retro computing they and their students are trapped within. Their only hope lays with security products, locking down their PCs with Antivirus, AntiSpyware and firewalls. At least until those products stop supporting legacy OS’s as well, which cannot be too far away methinks.