If you heard about it or not, the end of Windows XP is now upon us – April 8, 2014. Yes, everyone’s (mostly) favorite operating system is just a few short weeks away from being put out to pasture. Thus ending one of the oddest events in Microsoft’s empire.
A Long Time Ago…
For of those that don’t know, lets take a short journey down memory lane – back in August of 2001 Microsoft released a new operating system, like they have been doing like clock work every few years up to this point. There were problems and detractors but eventually everyone would come to love Windows XP. For many years Microsoft’s next operating system lived in development limbo, the next version was suppose to be release roughly in 2004. However, the next version was not released until 2007 to the general public. But numerous things happened, most notable the major backlash of Windows Vista by the industry, media and users. Since of this backlash, many people and companies refused to upgrade to Windows Vista – thus staying with Windows XP. Many of these groups decided to stay on Windows XP until forced to replace machines or even downgrade back to Windows XP, it wasn’t until Windows 7 came out in the Fall of 2009 that these groups started to upgrade operating systems. That’s right, these people stayed on a nearly ten year old operating system. Thus forcing Microsoft to delay the original end of life date for Windows XP – March 2012.
So here we are in 2014, 12 years after the launch of Windows XP, where 30% of computers connecting to the Internet are still running Windows XP.
Are You Running XP?
Your Computing Device is running:
If the above does not work, Try Microsoft’s am I Running XP site.
So, What Does This Mean For You?
Well for starters your computer will become more and more unsecured everyday you use it. Lets go through what happens on and after April 8.
- Official Support of Windows XP Ends
- No more technical support from Microsoft, not even paid support
- No more patches, updates, or security fixes
- Other Software Vendors may officially stop supporting and/or creating software for Windows XP
You may look at that list and think that it isn’t a big deal, well I’m here to tell you it’s a very BIG deal, especially if you are still running Windows XP and connect to the Internet with that machine.
The biggest thing is Microsoft will stop pushing out updates for Windows XP. What does this mean, every month Microsoft releases a ton of updates for all of there “supported” software. These updates include bug fixes, new core software, new features, and most importantly – Security Hotfixes.
Security Hotfixes are updates that fix major security flaws in Windows. Some of these hotfixes are to prevent bad guys from taking over your computer – either physically or remotely. These are the most important updates for your computer – well maybe next to updating your antivirus and web browser – and will help keep your computer safe for you and the rest of the World Wide Web. If you fail to install these updates your computer can become part of a Bot-Net, Spamming Network, or just steal your data.
So after April 8, your poor little Windows XP machine(s) will need to fend for themselves, without these updates helping to secure your machine it’s only a matter of time before some bad guys find an un-patched security hole and compromise the poor little Window XP boxes out there.
What Should You Do
If you still have a computer running Windows XP, the best advise I can give you is to upgrade it! Let me explain, if your computer came with Windows XP that means your computer is at least six years old. A computer running for six years is impressive but computers have gotten faster since then and can do so much more today. So upgrading (or replacing) your old machine will bring more benefits, such as less waiting, improvements in graphics, better security, and more.
Alternatively, if you upgraded your computer’s hardware but have been downgrading back to Windows XP to run a specific software package that only works on Windows XP, there is a better way – Virtual Machines. A virtual machine, is a program that allows you to run another computer (virtually) inside your physical computer, with its own operating system and software that is completely partitioned away from you’re actual computer.
How to setup and use virtual machines is completely outside the scope of this article, but in short you will need a copy of Windows XP (or really any operating system) CD, any needed software that needs to run on Windows XP, and Virtual Machine Software. I will assume you have the first two items. The latter has a few options, the free option is VirtualBox and the commercial option is VMWare WorkStation which starts at $250. I have used both of these products – VirtualBox is little rough around the edges but it’s powerful, while VMWare Workstation is really easy to use and you can get up and going quickly. After you get all your software lined out, you’re going to install your selected Virtual Machine Software, create and install the virtual machine, and then use that virtual machine for just that particular software package that will not work on newer versions of Windows.
XP For Life – Can’t Upgrade
We Highly Recommend Not To Stay with Windows XP, but if you must…
If you can not or will not replace your machine or move to a virtual machine for you needs, your future looks grim. In this scenario your computer management will become a whole lot harder. You’ll want to follow most of the following tasks for your XP Machine.
- Confirm that you have a good antivirus and firewall software installed with a current subscription. This will become your primary defense.
- Constantly check for Windows Updates to make sure you are fully patched.
- Install MalwareBytes Anti-Malware – run and update this program weekly.
- Uninstall any software you do not need or no longer use, this is to reduce your attack surface.
- Remove or Update Vulnerable Software. Below are the most common applications to check, remember you need to check for new versions at least monthly:
- If you use an administrator account for you everyday user account, change it. You will need to setup a new Administrator account and change your current account to a standard user. Doing this will limit the rights that an attacker has on your machine, if they compromise your user account
- Web Browser: If you use Internet Explorer as your default method of surfing the web, you need to change to a new web browser. After April 8th, Internet Explorer on XP is no longer supported. Also Internet Explorer is not really that safe anyway
- Change either to Firefox, Google Chrome, or Opera
- Then install AdBlock Plus – this will remove Advertisements and help cut down on possible routes of infections.
- Install Browser Updates: Firefox and Google Chrome will automatically update themselves, for the most part. Opera will download and prompt you to install the update at your convenience – the sooner the better.
- If at all possible, do not connect to the Internet. I know this is a difficult problem but that is the safest option, I wrote the above assuming that this is not an option.
- Follow common security guidelines for safe computing: Do not open files from untrusted sources, Do not open spam, Keep your antivirus up-to-date, scan for threats, secure your physical computer, use only trusted removable drives – e.g. USB Thumb/Flash/Jump Drives, Do not search for “Free ______” on the web for any reason – common infection method, do not let someone that contacted you with no prompting to connect to your computer. The list can go on and on.
- After April 8th you want to make sure you get any last minute patches that may be pushed out. Then you can disable Windows Update, because there is no point in have the service wasting time and resources for something that won’t come. Also you want to reduce your attack surface as much as possible.
If all of this seems like too much, this is only the beginning – there is so much more you can do. This is just a good starting point, the more you can lock down your computer, the better.
Windows XP has been a good operating system, it has done its job for a long time. However, its time is over and three new versions of Windows have enter the world and it’s there time.
If you are curious when Windows Vista, 7 and Even Windows 8 support end, we have a FAQ to answer that.
Are you still on Windows XP? If so, what are your plans for safe computing? Have a suggestion or something I missed? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.