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EDIT

I appreciate the answers I've gotten so far, but I might not have worded the question clearly enough.

Is the Windows 7 side of the machine running in XP Mode exposed to any dangers it would not be if it were not running a VM in XP Mode? And are Windows 7+ machines on the network exposed to additional vulnerabilities if a machine boots up an XP VM anywhere on the network?

I realize there is no way to predict specific vulnerabilities that might arise after April 8, 2014. I appreciate the explanations that I've gotten on that, as they're well-written and straightforward. I can use the language there to impress upon our stakeholders why getting everything off of XP ASAP needs to be high on our list of priorities.

What I'm especially curious about, though, is if we can't get off of XP by the end of support, what's the risk to the machines in our environment that aren't on XP? If a virus, worm, or other compromising piece of software gets into the XP VM, is the Windows 7 side infected, too? Or can I wipe out the XP VM and wipe the sweat off of my brow?

Or is that the point? Without being able to foresee what vulnerabilities will arise, we can't really know what the impact might be outside of the XP VM itself.

OP

Our firm is working on migrating everyone from Windows XP to Windows 7, but we have some software that still requires XP. What dangers, if any, will we face in running Windows Virtual Machines in XP Mode after April 8th, 2014?

I know the XP VM would be vulnerable to basically anything that a physical XP machine would be. So I guess what I'm really asking is, what vulnerabilities will my Windows 7 machine be open to when I open a VM in XP mode on April 8th, 2014? Is the Virtual PC an effective sandbox? Or should we try to keep machines running in XP mode off the network if possible?

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  • What a great question. +1. I look forward to an informed answer. Oct 28 '13 at 19:04
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I got a little lost in your question but I think the overall answer here is that the underlying Windows 7 machine (host) running the XP Virtual Machine (guest) is not any more or less vulnerable to attacks because it is simply acting as a network pass-thru for the guest so the host doesn't care what goes on across the wire unless you are performing the action within the host.

However there are some complicated things that can occur so consider these questions and facts:

  • Are you mapping network drives on the guest OS?
  • Are you mapping folders from the host on the guest?
  • A virus was recently discovered that finds as many network resources as possible and encrypts the files and holds a ransom for the decryption program/key
  • As Windows XP progresses further from the EOL then its' vulnerabilities simply keep growing
  • One vulnerability can lead to a slew of sub-vulnerabilities
  • XP VM shortcuts can be placed in the Windows 7 Start Menu. Does this open up an exploit in and of itself?
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  • those are exactly the kinds of considerations I was looking for. Thanks for wading through the question. Are there any sources you would recommend for monitoring these vulnerabilities and their impact?
    – tmoore82
    Oct 28 '13 at 20:16
  • I unfortunately do not have any sources for monitoring these vulnerabilities and their impact mainly because my bullet points are so broad and generic. Overall @techie007 points to a pretty good resource but the unfortunate thing is that upper management will usually blow it off as "scare tactics" and will not act until something bad does happen. If it ain't broke don't fix is probably the reaction you will get
    – MonkeyZeus
    Oct 28 '13 at 20:37
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What dangers, if any, will we face in running Windows Virtual Machines in XP Mode after April 1, 2014?

You might get a hint by watching the security patches that come out for supported versions of Windows after the XP EOL date. But really, you cannot know. Microsoft patches exploits after they are discovered, not before - there really isn't a way to know there's an exploit until one is found - unless you are reverse-engineering XP, hacking, or studying the source code.

Anything after the EOL date will be "zero-day" for XP. Investigate antivirus vendors and see if they will support XP after its EOL date - if you find one that does, install it on the VM.

A VM is an effective sandbox only if you are keeping known working and uninfected snapshots ready to redeploy in the event of an XP virtual machine suddenly acting weird. Then, if the virtual machine has a problem, you can roll back to a known safe configuration. If you can at all work with the XP virtual machines having no Internet access directly, it would significantly enhance your security.

Doing the proper thing and making sure the user account that runs in the XP system is not an administrator account will go a long way as well.

You should treat this as a stop gap and plan to upgrade your software, though.

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You'll be vulnerable to any new exploits developed after April 8th, 2014. What those may be is impossible to guess.

Here's a good write up from Microsoft:

The Risk of Running Windows XP After Support Ends April 2014

To add to after your edit:

The host is well protected (isolated) from the XP VM, and vice versa. It will be no more (or less) dangerous than a stand-alone, physical system running XP on the network.

Any holes that may appear specifically because it's "XP Mode" running on Windows 7 would be considered a Windows 7 issue.

Keeping protections like current anti-malware protection and locking access to and from the VM as much as possible will go far in mitigating problems now and in the future.

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