While the British military may lead the world in terms of equipping its tanks with tea brewing capabilities, its computer technology is lagging a couple of decades behind the rest of the world. When the latest British aircraft carrier hit the seas in June 2017, it was revealed that the computer system of this “state-of-the-art” floating fortress operated on a 2001 version of Windows XP.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth cost $4.5 billion to construct, but the systems that control the radar, navigation, and defense of the carrier are controlled by the same operating system that left 90% of Great Britain’s National Health Service crippled by the “WannaCry” ransomware attack. If that isn’t concerning enough, portions of the UK’s navy also rely on Windows Me, which was the last DOS-based operating system released by Microsoft. It hit the markets in 2000, and Microsoft ended all support for the product in 2006.
Windows XP was released in 2001. Basic support for the system was terminated in 2005. All support was ended in 2014. The Queen Elizabeth‘s commander, Mark Diller, insists that the carrier, “is well designed and there has been a very, very stringent procurement train that has ensured we are less susceptible to cyber than most.” Since Microsoft discontinued all Windows XP support, one wonders who the Navy plans on calling when they get Windows XP’s infamous “Blue Screen of Death” while conducting combat operations.
Why does one of the mightiest naval powers use such antiquated software? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that it was “cheaper than the alternatives,” according to Navy spokespeople. When Microsoft announced the discontinuation of support for the product, it also warned that the out-dated operating system was highly susceptible to security breaches. The cost of this vulnerability, hopefully, was factored into the decision to go with the cheaper option.
Read about the time Virginia Wolfe scammed the British Navy.