Apr
8

Windows XP End of Support: Last-minute Measures to Keep Your Systems Safe

Windows XP End of Support: Last-minute Measures to Keep Your Systems Safe

April 8
By

Today is the day. Windows XP support is gone (except for a few exceptions). But as InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman mentioned in an article, Windows XP still isn’t going anywhere.

As Gruman notes, a third of PCs still run XP, and indeed, some users have no choice but to use XP—they’re simply entrenched in it and either have specially-built software that only runs on XP (updating this software is costly and time-consuming), or they don’t have the funds to upgrade any of the hardware items.

A large number of government and municipal agencies fall in the latter category. Upgrading to a new OS, and potentially, new hardware, just isn’t in their budgets. For now, they’ll have to just keep themselves as protected as possible. Of course, there’s a third category as well: those who are oblivious and don’t quite understand what end-of-support entails. This is where my family members fall.

My sister has a clunky tower the size of a Kia Sorrento. The hard-drive even makes sounds roughly equivalent to a Sorrento engine, and this dusty relic runs Windows XP. The question here is: what do you tell your relatives to do if they’re on XP? In my case, it took a few months of emails back and forth to get her to understand that if she’s not protected (i.e. not taking precautions), she’ll be at risk.

Her home computer has tax data and other personal information she definitely wouldn’t want to be exposed to the waves of threats that are probably spreading into XP machines as we speak. While I had suggested that she upgrade or, at very least, that she download quality and up-to-date anti-virus and malware software, we’re still talking it out.  Even as I write this, we’re discussing her options. Yes, I know, this should’ve been done already, but at any rate, we’re forced to look at the options after support has ended instead of before.

Since attacks are probably happening, my initial suggestion was for her to not user her computer unless it was completely unplugged from the Internet, until we have a solution. No attack can get into a computer that isn’t networked (unless they physically install it onsite), so that remedies some of the problem. Of course, you can only do a handful of things without the Internet and she informed me that all they do on this computer is browse online. I suggested she just install an axle and wheels and use it as the Sorrento we know it actually is (I bet the hard drive could spin the wheels), but really, without Internet access it’s a paperweight.

She decided she wanted to upgrade to Win 7 and get some anti-virus so everything is tip-top and secure. The problem is she doesn’t know if her hardware will get bogged down by Win 7 since it takes more computing resources. She said wanted to take it back to where she bought it, a business known for taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers (they have excellent hardware, but will be happy to sell you way more than you need), to see if the Windows 7 upgrade would work on her hardware. After a long, extremely pained sigh, I asked why she didn’t check the specs herself. She figured the “computer people” would know what to do. After another bout of disenchanted exhales, I said, “Sure they know what to do, but their idea of what to do is to get you to buy things you don’t need.”

Since she doesn’t want to spend money to upgrade, the bottom line, I told her, is that having solid anti-virus and malware protection, using good judgment online, and being vigilant against threats will mean you can have a safe computing experience long after XP end-of-life.

There are a few things beyond just malware software that she’ll have to think about, things like making sure all software is consistently up-to-date and ditching Internet Explorer, but really, Win XP end-of-life isn’t the world-ending Y2K-style problem it seems like. It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to sell more licenses of Windows 7 or 8, and it’s in any PC manufacturer’s best interests to sell new hardware, so making XP end-of-life seem like the end of the world is certainly a convenient way to sell more things, but for users like my sister, it’s really not essential if you take the right measures.

But hey, if you’d like to use XP inside of a protected Windows 7 machine, you can always use virtualization. This article from VMWare sums it up nicely.