On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will end support for its XP operating system which is still installed on one-third of PCs in Japan. After that date, the company will no longer provide corrective updates should any security flaws be discovered, meaning users will be more susceptible to risks such as information theft and leakage. Though local governments are moving ahead with replacement plans, “cost concerns” and “worries about human error” are weighing heavily on some municipalities as talk of strategies including simply unplugging vulnerable machines and duct taping their ethernet ports becomes worryingly common.
The Aichi prefectural government provides one personal computer to each of its clerical personnel, of which 8,000 run XP. During the 2013 fiscal year, 7,200 of those machines are scheduled to be replaced. However, with functioning anti-virus installed, the government plans to continue using the remaining 800 even after XP support ends. And that means taking drastic measures.
The prefecture’s Ichinomiya City has XP running on 1,100 of its 1,900 personal computers. Of those, roughly two-thirds (740) will be replaced with new machines. The city will continue to use the remaining XP-loaded PCs; however, it will disconnect them from the Internet.
Cost is what is hampering local governments and their IT officers. Gifu Prefecture plans to spend 36 million yen (roughly US$360,000) on software upgrades and replacements. “We don’t have any other choice as information leaks by public agencies are certainly not tolerated,” said a concerned official in resignation. In Takayama City, Gifu, the IT officer in charge said they were trying hard to save money, “We would like to keep upgrade cost under control, so city personnel themselves will do some tasks associated with the upgrade that would have been outsourced in the past.” In Nagoya, a city official expressed dissatisfaction with Microsoft, saying, “Why should we have to replace our computers at the convenience of the software manufacturer?”
Like Ichinomiya City, many municipal governments will continue to use PCs running XP even after support expires, limiting them to tasks that do not require an Internet connection as a way of preventing data leakage and virus infection.
However, there are worries that some personnel might inadvertently connect XP computers to the Internet. To avoid such a situation, Toyohashi City in Aichi is considering tapping up the computers’ Ethernet ports. “Historically, IT culture has only been short lived, but we are already at is mercy,” said a city official smiling bitterly.