Today is the day that Microsoft officially ends support for Windows XP. The media has picked up on it, and are covering it with their usual sober perspective and restraint.
If you are a reader of this website, you already knew well in advance that this was coming. I covered it in detail this past January, and the information in that previous post still applies, so please check it out if you need a refresher. But I’ll take this opportunity to provide a quick summary for you and also tip you off about how Microsoft is working overtime to scare everyone (bless their hearts).
Here is the situation: As of today, Microsoft will no longer provide updates to the operating system to patch newly discovered security vulnerabilities. This means that, in the future, if someone discovers a new flaw in Windows XP, Microsoft will not fix it.
Your risk is no greater than it was yesterday, assuming you have applied all currently available Windows updates. Even if you haven’t, those existing updates will remain available for download.
You will still be protected from viruses as long as you have an antivirus program installed. Even Microsoft’s free Security Essentials will continue to get updates until July 2015.
That’s why I’m saying panic is unwarranted at this point. Unfortunately, Microsoft has complicated things in their efforts to “get the word out.” They’ve sent out an update that causes Windows XP to pop up this friendly message.
At least you can click the check box to make it go away. However, if you have Security Essentials as your antivirus program, it now pops up a nag message as well.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s a way to stop this message from appearing. Microsoft may disable it in a future update to Security Essentials, but for now it looks like we’re stuck with it unless you replace Security Essentials with another antivirus program. Again, I discussed these options in the January post. Since Security Essentials will continue to get updates into July 2015, I wouldn’t bother replacing it unless the popup really bothers you.
Now, let’s talk about the future.
Estimates are that about 25-30 percent of all PCs still run Windows XP. That’s a big fat target for people who have nothing better to do than hack away at things until they break. The chances are 100% that someone will figure out a way to compromise something in Windows XP. What we can’t predict is how serious it will be or how long it will take.
If I were really cynical, I might even suggest that it would be in Microsoft’s best interest to develop some bit of malware that would render XP unusable. But I don’t think they’re that evil. Yet.
The bad guys are hard at work trying to break everything else as well. Windows 7 and 8, networking software, routers, you name it. The difference is that as long as support continues for these products, someone will be able to fix the problems as they are discovered.
There is no such thing as a computer, tablet, or smartphone that can’t be hacked. As soon as you connect to the Internet, you are at risk. And without an Internet connection, these devices just aren’t very useful any more, especially as more and more services move to the cloud.
So the same rules apply whether you’re using Windows XP or anything else. Keep your important data backed up. Keep your security software up to date. And try not to do anything stupid online.
And for now, don’t panic.
The twilight of Windows XP