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Our Opinion: Retailers and cyber-security

It’s the Wild West out there in cyberspace, and both businesses and consumers need to adjust.

The lawsuits started almost immediately after Target’s admission that hackers had stolen information related to the credit-card accounts of 40 million shoppers.

At least a dozen customers are now pursuing class-action suits against the retailer, claiming it was negligent in protecting their data.

A similar hacker attack on the municipal liquor store in Detroit Lakes also wreaked havoc, on a much smaller scale.

The upshot is: The dangers of cyber-crime should be an eye-opener for businesses, and now is the time to revamp policies and upgrade computer systems to keep customer information as safe as possible.

For example, we’re surprised at how often non-financial business forms require a Social Security number, often for no good reason.

Having old forms floating around with names, ages and Social Security information is just asking for identity theft.

Businesses need to revamp those old forms, and customers should refuse to provide Social Security numbers unless there’s a very good reason.

A bigger threat looms on the horizon with the coming demise of the aging Windows XP operating system.

Microsoft will pull the plug on Windows XP on April 8. After that, there will be no more security updates, and no more support for Windows XP.

Hackers are drooling at the chance to take over unsuspecting business computers. When they find a flaw in the operating system, they will have access to millions of these old XP computers.

It’s just a matter of time before vulnerabilities will be found and exploited.

Since there will be no patch from Microsoft, anyone who continues to use Windows XP after April 8 will be at the mercy of hackers and in dire risk of having their XP computer seriously compromised. No firewall or anti-virus software will keep those computer systems safe.

At one time Windows XP had an installed user base of more than 800 million computers. Windows XP is still running on 39 percent of the computers currently in use, according to Dell’s Tech Page One.

Even if the Windows XP base sinks to 10 percent of what it once was, hackers will still have millions of computers to target.

Windows XP is now a frail 12-year-old operating system. Even though security was increased with Service Release 2, it cannot compare to the security provided by Windows 7 or Window 8.

For anyone still using Windows XP, it’s past time to upgrade.

Other than paying with cash, there isn’t much consumers can do to avoid cyber-attacks on businesses.

But there are some common-sense things you can do online, according to CNN Money. One is to change your password often, and use different passwords for different accounts.

Another is to avoid bad links: Check where a link is taking you before you click it. Rest your mouse cursor on the link (don’t click!) and examine the address. If it is supposed to take you to “” but will take you instead to “,” it’s suspect.

Don’t visit questionable websites: The dark corners of the Internet are real-life slums. Porn sites are notorious malware havens.

Don’t fall for phishing scams: Fake emails now pose as your bank, email provider, local court system, or social media sites.

Don’t download from unknown sources: Only pull files from websites you trust. You’re essentially accepting an unopened box from an unknown source.