The end of XP

Be honest now, are you still using Windows XP? There’s no need to be embarrassed if you are, you aren’t alone, 12 years after it was released Windows XP is still the 2nd most popular operating system in the world with 17% of the market share.

For many years now Microsoft have been encouraging their users onto newer Windows versions such as Vista, 7 and 8, but a lot of people are still very happy with Windows XP and are refusing to budge.

The recession is no doubt partly to blame, new computers are expensive and Windows XP works well on older hardware so why change? Another reason is Microsoft’s own variable release quality, Vista was highly criticised, Windows 7 fixed Vista’s issues and became very popular, but Microsoft moved quickly onto Windows 8 with its new touch interface and bold colours that has put many people off.

However, the problem we now face is that on April 8th 2014 Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP and many millions of users will be left out in the cold, but what does this mean?

The second Tuesday of the month is marked on many IT professionals calendars as “patch Tuesday“. This is the day when new updates are published to fix bugs and security vulnerabilities recently discovered in Windows operating systems. April 8th 2014 is the last patch Tuesday that will include Windows XP, after this date new vulnerabilities discovered in Windows XP will never be fixed and your computer will be exposed to these vulnerabilities until you upgrade to a newer version of Windows.

What is worse is that black hat hackers watch Microsoft’s movements in the security world with great interest. Often Microsoft are responding to exploits discovered “in the wild”, other times these vulnerabilities are discovered by Microsoft first and so have limited effectiveness against supported operating systems because many will be quickly fixed. However hackers can now look at what is being fixed in Windows Vista/7/8 and you can be guaranteed they will be testing Windows XP to see whether it too is vulnerable.

So what can you do? Ultimately, you will need to upgrade from Windows XP, ideally before April 8th 2014 lands. In some cases this won’t be possible so if you are stuck with Windows XP for the time being then you must be extra vigilant against security threats

Keep your anti-virus updated, make sure you are using 3rd party anti-virus because Microsoft is also ending support for XP in Windows Security Essentials.

Be extra wary of using software from untrusted sources either via downloads or physical media such as USB pen drives. These can carry viruses exploiting XP’s growing number of unpatched vulnerabilities.

Finally, bear in mind that your computer is now overdue for an upgrade.