Security worries arise as Windows 98 stays alive

The extension of support for Windows 98 only delays the inevitable need to upgrade say some and isn't necessarily good news because of its instability.

Microsoft's decision to give Windows 98 a reprieve from the tech support junkyard may keep some companies hanging on to the aging OS, but experts and network administrators say the older software remains a security and stability albatross.

Bending to pressure, Microsoft extended paid tech support and occasional security patches for Windows 98 and ME through 2006. But most observers agree that's not a good reason to hang onto the platform.

"There's not much stability, and it isn't a secure system," says Bradley J. Dinerman, MCSE, manager of technical operations at MIS Alliance Corporation and founder of the New England Information Security User Group. "[Windows] 98 basically had no built-in security features."

According to the Microsoft TechNet Web site, there were four security bulletins issued for Windows 98 in the past year; 14 during the past two years; and 19 in the last three years. By comparison, for Windows XP, Microsoft issued 31 bulletins in the past year and 70 since its release in 2001.

Those who use or work with the platform say it's far less secure than more recent versions of Microsoft's operating system and that XP may have more known flaws because hackers tend to be spurred on by the challenge of attacking software that's supposed to be more secure.

"It's not secure, plain and simple," says Kevin Kleinmann, a principal with consulting firm Interactive Business Systems. He says his firm still runs across Win98 deployments, even at Fortune 500 companies, who put off upgrading as long as possible because of the cost and inconvenience.

Microsoft cited deployments of the software in developing nations as the main reason for the extension. Support for Win98 was to end this month.

But Dinerman says the software is also widely used at cost-conscious organizations such as schools, for whom the cost of upgrading -- which often includes buying new machines -- is prohibitive.

For Microsoft, the decision to extend came after pressure was exerted from outside the company. But experts say businesses aren't doing themselves any favors by clinging to the system. Unlike Windows NT 4, which is widely seen as a stable platform for enterprises, Windows 98 isn't viewed to be as robust.

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