I want you to stop using Windows XP. It’s time to move to a more modern – and more importantly, a supported – operating system.
If you can’t or won’t stop using Windows XP, then I want it to work as well for you as it can for as long as it can. To that end, I’ve cut the price of the PDF version of Maintaining Windows XP – A Practical Guide in half.
Yes, I’m sending a mixed message, but I’m not alone; so is Microsoft, who recently extended the length of time their anti-malware tools would continue to be updated. This confusion in their messaging is driven as much by the people sticking with Windows XP as much as anything else.
It’s time to say good bye to Windows XP
As much as we might love Windows XP, it’s time to say goodbye. It really is.
And no amount of complaining about what Microsoft should do, should have done, could do, or won’t do will help or change that.
They’re going to do what they’re going to do. Just like Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 before it, Windows XP will very shortly be unsupported.
The safest thing to do (and in my opinion, the right thing to do) is to move to another operating system. I’m not even saying that it needs to be a version of Windows. What matters is that the operating system is current and supported by its vendor and that it does whatever it is that you need it to do.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
But Windows XP isn’t like those prior versions
The problem that we’re faced with today is because of XP’s overwhelming success. At one point, over half of the computers (not just Windows computers, but all computers) on the planet were running Windows XP.
As a result, moving on from Windows XP is a major and often daunting task. That’s why Microsoft gave the world years to prepare.
Unfortunately, by being as successful as it is, Windows XP also provided malware authors with an extremely lucrative target. Write a successful virus for Windows XP and over half the computers on the planet could be your playground!
With support ending, that playground is now unsupervised.
The disaster scenario
If you’ve been watching at all, you’re probably tired of hearing about this, but here’s the disaster scenario that you absolutely should be concerned about:
- Today, somewhere, malware authors may know of vulnerabilities in Windows XP that they could use to compromise machines running Windows XP. As a result, they could infect those machines with viruses, spyware, keyloggers bots, and more.
- Sometime shortly after support for Windows XP ends, the malware authors release their malware.
- Because support has ended, the vulnerability will not be fixed.
- Only anti-malware tools stand a chance of protecting you, but with malware constantly changing, yet exploiting that same never-to-be-fixed vulnerability, it’s a losing battle. There’s no way the anti-malware tools can keep up.
- Windows XP machines begin to be infected at an alarming rate with no real hope for recovery.
As I said, this is the disaster scenario – the worst-case sequence of events that could happen after support for Windows XP is terminated.
The hopefully more likely scenario
I actually think malware authors are likely to attempt to make that scenario happen, simply because of the number of Windows XP machines that are still in use. It’s such a lucrative target; it’s like shutting down a candy store and just leaving the door unlocked on the last day so anyone can walk in and take whatever they want.
But because it remains such a large target, here’s what I hope will happen instead:
- If a truly serious and wide-spread attack became real, Microsoft could provide a patch anyway.
- If a truly serious and wide-spread attack affected a business, they may still have the ability to purchase a fix.
That’s pure speculation on my part, but I just can’t see Microsoft letting things get into a truly disastrous situation without taking action. Because of recent revelations about how many point-of-sale, ATM, and other dedicated devices are still running Windows XP, I have a hard time believing that large-scale issues with those devices wouldn’t be dealt with somehow.
Of course, you may not always agree with what is (and is not) a disastrous situation.
To those who are about to stay
Knowing the risks and believing that they can stay safe (or simply not agreeing that the risks are really that bad), there remain many people who intend to continue using Windows XP.
You can indeed keep using Windows XP. Heck, I still occasionally hear from people using Windows 95, 98, 2000, and NT for an assortment of reasons. The difference is that none of those operating systems were nearly as big a malware target as Windows XP. But as I said, you can keep using it for as long as you like. It’ll keep working just fine … until malware interferes.
May I recommend that you:
- Backup often and specifically take image backups often. My recommendation is monthly full with daily incrementals. If you suffer from malware of some sort, an image backup is the fastest way to recover.
- Keep your security software up-to-date. This is critical. This is now your most important line of defense against intruders. Double check that the tools that you’re using are up-to-date and will continue to be supported on Windows XP for some time to come. If not, switch now.
- Get behind a router, if you’re not already. Normally, I’d say “get behind a firewall” but with support ending, I don’t want you to be relying on the Windows XP built-in software firewall. A separate device (which you may already have) is the way to go.
Is this Y2K all over again?
There is a chance that the concern that tech folks like me have about staying with Windows XP might be misplaced. It’s certainly possible that the hackers have already moved on to newer platforms and newer devices. It’s possible that the end of Windows XP’s life will be a quiet non-event.
But the revelations that many dedicated-purpose machines like ATMs and point-of-sale terminals are still running Windows XP got my attention. I do believe that they’ll be targeted. As a result, I believe that XP-specific malware will continue to exploit unpatched vulnerabilities on any Windows XP machine, even yours.
I truly hope I’m wrong. But I recommend that you prepare for the risk.