29 June, 2017
Microsoft is out with its monthly Patch Tuesday update today, providing security fixes for 96 security issues and is also taking the unusual step of providing some of the fixes for the older, unsupported Windows XP operating system.
Following the devastating WannaCry ransomware outbreak, which affected around 75,000 machines and shut down the NHS's IT infrastructure last month, Microsoft is taking action to block similar attacks.
"If Microsoft says that Windows 7 truly reaches end of life in [January] 2020, is it really going to cut off support, or will they release critical patches like they have done twice with Windows XP?" asked Brad Sams of Petri.com on Tuesday.
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While security updates are automatically applied in most computers, some users and enterprises may delay deployment of patches.
The update was released as part of the company's regular Tuesday schedule. "While releasing the patch should be considered the correct proactive approach from Microsoft given current events, there's no indication that the practice will continue". While nearly all WannaCry victims were running Windows 7 without the latest security updates, it's not clear if these new attacks might target Windows XP more aggressively this time around.
But by issuing patches to Windows XP three years after expiration, some anxious that Microsoft had set a precedent it might regret. Over 100 million people still used Windows XP as of late 2016, according to research, including millions of users in China. They are available in the Microsoft Download Center or, alternatively, in the Update Catalog and can be found here.
These XP patches have been included with Microsoft's June 2017 Patch Tuesday, which the company released a few hours ago.
"Anyone still using Windows Server 2003 or XP should install these patches ASAP with the expectation that they will be actively exploited in the near term", he said.
Sean Dillon, senior security analyst for cybersecurity firm RiskSense, said that although the new updates promise further system protection, businesses and organizations should consider this as a temporary solution. Within 24 hours, Microsoft issued a free patch that protected unsupported versions of Windows against the EternalBlue vulnerabilities.