Experts say you need to ditch Windows XP
Though Microsoft’s decision to stop offering extended support for its Windows XP operating system on April 8, 2014 was announced just under seven years ago, more than a quarter of all PCs in the world still use the 13-year-old software, according to statistics from NetMarketShare.com.
Local computer companies have been kept hopping the past couple of weeks, as computer users whose machines still used the outdated operating system became increasingly concerned about the bulletins issued by Microsoft that warned of possible security risks.
“Antivirus software and firewalls work in conjunction with Windows updates to patch up security holes, so hackers and viruses can’t get in (to a computer’s operating system),” said Ricky Beeson, an information technology specialist with Pro Systems in Detroit Lakes.
“Since they stopped releasing patches (for Windows XP) on Tuesday, that means users are left with just their antivirus to protect their systems — and that’s not enough,” Beeson added.
“This is a security risk simply because if a hacker is able to find a security hole in the operating system of Windows XP, Microsoft will no longer create a patch or fix for that hole,” explained Royce Germain, owner of eFire Technologies in Detroit Lakes. “It’s left open for anyone to exploit.”
“They (Microsoft) also stopped releasing patches (i.e., support) for Office 2003 on Tuesday,” Beeson said.
While the lack of continued support for Office 2003 isn’t quite as big an issue, Beeson said it could be a problem if you keep your personal financial data stored on a computer running the outdated software.
“You’re just asking for trouble,” he said — particularly at this time of year, when people are running tax software on their computers to submit their taxes online.
“A lot of people (i.e., hackers) were waiting for this day, because there were so many systems that would become vulnerable to attack,” Beeson added.
He said that it’s a fairly big issue locally, because the XP system has remained popular despite the fact that Microsoft has released three additional, more recent operating systems since XP was first released in 2001.
“A lot of people became very comfortable with their Windows XP, and didn’t want to upgrade,” Beeson said, adding that he’s even had requests from people purchasing new PCs to install XP rather than a newer, less familiar system.
Germain, however, feels the lack of updated security support for XP is a bigger issue for businesses than for individuals. “The average individual user is most likely not a target. Now if you are a large business, you are much more susceptible to attacks.
“It’s more about the payoff than anything,” he added. “Why waste time with thousands of personal computers with the slight chance of maybe getting some financial information… (when) even if they did get the financial information, there is a chance there isn’t much to gain from it. It’s not worth the hassle.
“However, if you hit a business account, there’s a better chance of getting a much bigger financial gain,” Germain concluded, adding that he feels the bigger issue for home computer users is that other PC software and peripheral devices will cease to be XP compatible.
“The little programs that tell a computer what to do with a specific attached device (printers, drivers, etc.) will no longer be created for XP,” he said, adding, “New software released will no longer have any code written that is needed to be backwards compatible with XP.”
So what can be done to solve the problem? Beeson said that computers purchased within the past five years or less should be able to support a software upgrade to Windows 7 or 8.1.
If your computer is older than that, however, you should probably consider replacing it, he added. “Older computers can’t handle (the upgrade) because they simply weren’t built for it.”
“More often than not, upgrading your computer to meet an acceptable use standard running Windows 7 or 8.1 will lead you to spending a large amount of money that will only give another year or so out of the machine,” Germain explained. “It’s better to use that money towards a new machine that will last much longer. (You’ll get a) better return for your investment.”