On April 8, Windows stopped providing bug fixes and security patches for critical vulnerabilities in the Windows XP operating system. With an estimated 20-30 percent of Internet-connected PCs running Windows XP, many people are questioning what this means, how it affects their computer’s security and what they can do to ensure that they remain protected from security breaches and hackers.
The fact that Windows will no longer provide security patches when vulnerabilities are discovered in the Windows XP operating system means that the security of computers running XP will continue to deteriorate over time. This is because hackers are always working and will continue seeking out vulnerabilities in the coming months.
“Without Microsoft’s protection, all those Windows XP PCs will have targets painted on their hard drives,” states Chris Hoffman from PC World. “They’ll continue running like normal, but they’ll be rotting inside, becoming increasingly full of security holes. Microsoft itself has dubbed the condition ‘Zero day forever.’”
Your best bet is to upgrade from XP to the newer format of Windows.
“The Windows 8.1 system requirements are almost the same as the Windows 8 system requirements — so if your PC can run Windows 8, in most cases you can get the free update to Windows 8.1,” according to Microsoft.
This isn’t practical for everyone, however, so there are other things you can do to protect your computer. Large organizations are seeking options to pay a fee in order to receive customized Windows XP support until they can make the switch, but this is not an affordable solution for small businesses and individuals.
One of the best things that you can do is to pick your software, particularly your Internet browser, carefully.
Internet Explorer 8 is particularly vulnerable because it’s already several generations old and will not continue to receive security patches. Current information suggests that Windows XP will be supported by Google Chrome until around April 2015. Firefox will continue supporting XP for the time being, but it’s important to stay abreast of changes in case it announces an end date.
“So switch to Chrome or Firefox and you’ll have a secure, modern browser,” states Hoffman.
As far as antivirus software goes, many will continue supporting Windows XP, which will provide partial protection. Microsoft Security Essentials is no longer offered, but those who already have it will receive updates for a limited time.
“This does not mean that your PC is secure because Microsoft is no longer providing security updates to help protect your PC,” states Microsoft.
AV-TEST, an antivirus testing company, asked 30 antivirus companies if they plan to continue supporting Windows XP and they all said that they would support it until at least April 2015, and many stated that they would support it until at least 2016. If you have expired antivirus software, however, and it’s not receiving updates, it isn’t going to help you.
Experts warn that Outlook Express is no longer secure, and recommend that the full version of Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office is better. Web-based e-mail options may offer the best security, so it may be time to switch accounts.
“The Java browser plug-in is extremely exploit-prone on any operating system,” says Hoffman. “Unless you really need Java for a specific purpose, you should uninstall it. If you do need it, be sure to disable the browser plug-in and keep it up-to-date.”
The security threat is one reason to switch to a different operating system, but it is important to note that there are also going to be difficulties using applications and software in the future. According to Microsoft, “…as more software and hardware manufacturers continue to optimize for more recent versions of Windows, you can expect to encounter more apps and devices that do not work with Windows XP.”
If you would like to try to upgrade your computer’s operating system, you may find frequently asked questions about the upgrade procedure at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/upgrade-to-windows-8.