What To Do Now That Windows XP Is No Longer Supported

windows xp support ended april 8th

On April 8th this year Microsoft finally ceased support for Windows XP leaving thousands of businesses with legacy hardware vulnerable to attack as new exploits were discovered and no longer fixed.

First released for retail sale on 25th October 2001, Windows XP was received positively with improved performance and a more intuitive user interface. Sales were impressive with at least 400 million copies sold globally within its first five years of availability and according to data generated by Net Applications, Windows XP was the most widely used operating system up to August 2012 until it was finally overtaken by Windows 7.

However, the fact that it is no longer supported really shouldn’t be news to anyone. Back on 14th April 2009 Windows XP “exited mainstream support and entered the Extended Support phase” which basically signalled it was time for businesses to move onto a newer operating system. From then on all Microsoft would be supplying were monthly Security Updates, which it ended up doing until a few weeks ago, much longer than its stated 10 support period – a testament to just how many computers are still out there running Windows XP.

But despite this long ‘notice period’ and the increasingly frequent messages from both Microsoft, the technical and even mainstream press, XP is still out there in its millions. For example according to online statistics, as of January 2014, at least 49% of all computers in China still ran XP and 95% of the 3 million cash machines (ATMs) in the world were also in need of updating.

So what are the risks?

So what’s the problem with the end of support? These updates Microsoft were issuing each month were directly addressing exploits, holes if you like, in the security of their operating system. Hackers would find new ways to get onto your computer, and Microsoft would fix them. And the cycle would repeat. Except that now it isn’t. Newly discovered holes into your computer remain open, letting hackers read your data, take control of your computer or worse.

What can you do? 

The short answer is upgrade to something new and secure. Staying with Microsoft that means Windows 7 or Windows 8. You could always consider Linux, but if that’s an option to you it’s unlikely you’re still on Windows XP anyway.

good bye xp hello windows 8

You can upgrade by simply buying a new computer, the easiest route, or if your older computer is sufficiently capable you can buy a Windows 7 license and install it. This is certainly a more complicated, although cheaper, option and as a general guide only consider this if your computers processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo or newer. Older machines can run Windows 7 but the experience will be poor.

But there are many businesses who will not be able to upgrade for a variety of reasons. They may not have the money to buy new hardware or a new license. Some businesses are running custom software or support hardware that has not been updated and simply will not run on anything newer.

Here are a few tips for people who cannot get away from Windows XP yet, and need to continue ‘as is’ for a while longer.

  1. If your machine is not connected to the internet – don’t worry. Some installations like isolated accounts machines or machines running dental x-ray software are not connected to any network. These are essentially fine and can continue running without risk as nothing can connect to them to exploit any vulnerabilities. But make sure they remain disconnected!
  1. Run as a Standard User. It is widely recognised that around 90% or more of malware and virus attacks are mitigated if they are not run under an account with Administrator privileges. Check if you are running as a user with Administrator rights and if so remove them.
  1. Do not use Internet Explorer as your web browser. Virtually all exploits from accidentally visiting malicious websites require Internet Explorer to gain entry to the computer. Install and use Google Chrome which is still supported on XP and receives regular security patches.
  1. Make sure you are running an up to date Anti-virus software. Kaspersky is excellent, but costs an annual fee, AVG is free. Also install Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft recently confirmed that it will continue to provide Security Essentials virus definitions, and updates for its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) for XP until July 14, 2015.
  1. To help you browse the internet safely, install Web of Trust which is a community driven software that provides a red or green visual cue next to any link, before you click it, indicating if the site is known to be dangerous or not.

All of the above are short term fixes and businesses should implement hardware updates for any equipment still running Windows XP as a high priority.

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk