In time, everything moves on, becomes updated, and eventually the old stuff just has to be chucked out to make way for the new. And so it is with Windows XP. Now 13 years old, Microsoft have announced that they will no longer be continuing to support the operating system so as they can better focus their efforts on future developments. Support for Windows XP officially ended on the 8th of April this year.
What this means for XP users
This means that Windows Internet Explorer 8 is no longer supported either. If you still use this browser (or any other on a PC with XP) to surf the internet then your machine will be exposed to any online malware that targets it. Indeed, according to the Windows website, your PC will be “five times more vulnerable to security risks and viruses, which means that you could get hacked and have your personal information stolen.”
Additionally, hardware companies that manufacture things like digital cameras, smart TVs and printers will no longer be compatible with your PC, and as time goes by the overall performance of your machine will degrade and slow down.
The List Goes On
Windows XP will also no longer be capable of receiving any software updates from Windows Update, including security updates that prevent attacks from spyware, viruses and any other malware that may encounter your PC, meaning that not only will your machine’s functionality be threatened, but your personal information will also be at high risk of theft.
Microsoft Security Essentials, the free anti-virus protection software provided by Microsoft for their Windows customers, will also no longer be available for download on XP. Even if you already have this software installed, you still will no longer be protected.
Cyber Criminals Already Exploiting Unprotected Machines
Without patches being released to protect XP users in Microsoft’s monthly security updates, cyber criminals inevitably have found their way into the desktops of vulnerable users all around the world. The flaw in the system is in fact so severe that hackers can find themselves with the exact same administrative privileges of all of a user’s information as the legitimate users themselves.
They do this by setting up a website with the dangerous malware ready to be automatically installed onto your PC when you visit it. The hackers will then attempt to dupe you into visiting the website, usually through a bogus email. If you follow the click-through to the site whilst using Internet Explorer, then the malware will unstoppably seep into your operating system, giving the hacker complete control over your machine. You may not even notice that this has happened. They will have access to any information that you have stored on your computer – email, bank details, whatever you’ve got there, the hackers now have it too.
What to do?
Well, Microsoft’s unshakeable advice remains the same – update to a newer and safer version of Windows, though you may require a new machine if your old one (and it will be old if it’s still running XP) doesn’t meet the system requirements. Indeed, that may be the only thing that you can do.
Writing in Tech Times, Vamien McKalin does have the following advice for users of Windows 7 and 8:
“If you’re on Windows 7 or Windows 8 with updated versions of Internet Explorer 10 and 11, just activate Enhanced Protected Mode if you haven’t already.”
Another way around the problem, according to the cyber security firm FireEye, is to disable Adobe Flash, since the exploit requires the use of Flash to function. Though of course this means that you will have to be able to live without Flash!
Geek.com also advise a further alternative of switching browsers. Chrome or Firefox are the ones they recommend, though eventually, they say, it will become riskier and riskier for to use XP on the internet.
Updating to Windows 8.1
If your machine will support it, you may have to consider moving to Windows 8.1. You can find out if your PC has what it takes to run the system by going to Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor, which is a free service that (thankfully) Microsoft will still provide to their customers still stranded on XP (though if you can’t make the upgrade then you will eventually have to get a new PC – and the longer you leave it, the longer you are vulnerable to attack).
When it all boils down though, the only real long term solution for is to get yourself a new PC. Indeed, that is really what Microsoft wants you to do. The company no longer wants to waste any time and resources updating a long out-of-date product, and quite frankly, the security that they can provide for a decade old machine will always be weak against today’s much more sophisticated malware threats.