Stuck with Windows XP (for now)?

This week Microsoft ceased to support Windows XP

In practical terms, this means that Microsoft have now issued the last security update that will address vulnerabilities in XP. To summarise the main problems this will cause:

  • Hackers, virus writers and so on may now concentrate their efforts on discovering vulnerabilities in Windows XP, knowing that Microsoft will not be trying to counteract their activities. This is likely to be worth their while as XP is still the second most popular operating system in the world (behind only Windows 7, and far in front of Windows 8, Vista, Mac OS, and all the Linux versions).
  • Manufacturers of both hardware and software that is currently compatible with Windows XP may not be so in the future as the manufacturers take their cue from Microsoft and stop putting effort into maintaining compatibility with an obsolete operating system (and who can blame them?).

So, do I have to stop using XP now?

There may be powerful reasons why you do not want to upgrade your computer at this time, so is it essential to deal with this at this moment?

XP with wingsThat is up to you. The consensus around the bits of the web that I’ve been dipping into seems to be that XP is not expected to become hugely dangerous immediately. Personally, I’m not going to take the risk. My experience of removing malware and viruses from clients’ computers tells me that most infestations can be tackled successfully using a combination of Malwarebytes, SpyBot, AdAware, and some careful googling. Having said that, though, I believe that it is a risk not worth taking. That risk will, of course, increase over time as more and more vulnerabilities are found – and not patched – in the ever-ageing operating system. My advice to my computer support clients is to replace an XP machine as soon as possible if it is exposed to the WWW.

Will XP stop working?

No. There’s nothing to stop you from continuing to use XP if you feel the risk is worth it.

Can it be made safe?

No, but there are things you can do to reduce the risks. These are:

  • Stop using Internet Explorer as your browser. The current versions of both Chrome and Firefox will run under Windows XP and they are both safer than Internet Explorer 9 (the latest version of IE that will run under XP).
  • Install one of the website scanners that warns you before you visit if a website is known to be dodgy (eg McAfee Site Advisor)
  • Install all of the recommended security updates that existed at 8th April. Microsoft have not announced that they are going to remove updates and patches from their website. You will still be able to install all of the currently available updates into the foreseeable future.
  • Make sure that you have antivirus software installed and that it is automatically updating its virus definition files (probably daily).
  • Check for software and driver updates of any software and hardware that is important to you on your XP machine. Manufacturers will undoubtedly stop providing drivers and updates that have been tested and confirmed to work with XP. Get the latest versions while you still can. It would also be a good idea to take backup copies of these if you can.

Can you still support me with my XP machine using Teamviewer?

TeamViewer logoI have spoken with Teamviewer and they couldn’t think of any risks in using the remote control software that might be caused by the demise of XP. Until and unless I learn different, I will continue to offer Teamviewer support to clients running XP.

Can you come and make my computer as secure as possible along the lines you have outlined?

I could (assuming you are in my normal geographical range), but it probably wouldn’t make economic sense. If it took me a couple of hours to do this work for you then that would cost you £130. Now I do realise, of course, that that is much less than it would cost you to get two hours of support from most IT support consultants (!), but it’s still money that you would probably be better off investing in a new computer. The only obvious exception that I can think of is if you have some old software that is essential to you but which hasn’t been developed to run on Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

Windows XP TombstoneSo, you can reduce the risks, but they will still grow over time and one day you will probably have to bite the bullet and get a new computer. The good news is that the new one is probably going to cost you a lot less (in real terms) than the doddery old one that you are unwilling to replace at the moment.

PS: at the risk of putting a another big crimp in your day, if you are running any of the components of Microsoft Office 2003 (Outlook, Word, Excel. PowerPoint, OneNote) then you should also be aware that Microsoft ceased support for Office 2003 on April 8th as well as XP. Not as drastic as the XP problem, maybe, but still a security risk.