The clock is ticking for Windows XP holdouts. Microsoft has announced that official support for Windows XP and Office 2003 ends on April 8, 2014, and users are urged to switch to a more modern operating system.
Ending support means Microsoft will no longer be releasing patches to fix vulnerabilities in the software. Even if serious issues are later found in XP or Office 2003, or if attackers target previously unknown bugs, Microsoft will not be releasing any updates after April to address them. The last update for Windows XP will be released as part of Microsoft’s April Patch Tuesday, on April 8, 2014.
The computer may be working just fine and you may be able to do everything you need to do—checking email, surfing the Web, working on documents and spreadsheets—so you may be satisfied with sticking with XP. The problem is, the threat landscape has changed dramatically, and sticking with XP after support ends exposes you to a growing number of malware and Web-based attacks.
While Microsoft introduced various security defenses and mitigation technologies in Windows XP, they are no longer enough to handle the latest threats. In fact August’s Microsoft Security Intelligence Report noted that malware infection rates for Windows XP is already significantly higher than those for modern systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8. Windows XP is 21 times more likely to be infected than Windows 8, according to statistics recently released by Microsoft. That number is going to just keep increasing after XP support ends.
Microsoft has other numbers to justify these concerns. In the first two years after Windows XP SP2 ended support, the infection rate for XP SP2 jumped 66 percent higher than the infection rate for XP SP3, Microsoft’s Holly Stewart wrote on the Malware Protection Center’s blog.
Security experts are also concerned that cyber-attackers may be sitting on an arsenal of security flaws in XP that they plan to use in various attacks after April. With no more updates coming, experts warn that XP users will always be vulnerable to the new wave of attacks. The computer will be at risk for malware that can steal data or damage the computer.
While third-party security software such as the antivirus may continue working and still be updated, it’s important to remember that a lot of malware and cyber-attacks target issues in Internet Explorer and the Windows kernel. The security tools can block some threats, but not the ones that impact the browser and the OS.
While XP computers may be working just fine for surfing the Web, and word processing is sufficient with Office 2003, the risk of future attacks is serious and all too real. There’s simply more risk than benefit from continuing to run Windows XP. Users should be moving off XP, either by upgrading the operating system, or by getting a new computer. It’s also important to make sure the computer has updated software to go with the new operating system, beginning with a modern version of security software such as an antivirus and firewall, word processing software, and other tools such as Java and Adobe Reader.
The clock is ticking, and it’s time to put that aging XP computer to rest before the attackers get a hold of it.