Still Using Windows XP? You May Want to Bail Before April 19

rip-xpAre you the nostalgic type? Prefer vinyl LPs over CDs and MP3s? Believe that music went on a permanent vacation when the 1970s ended? Dream about the good old days when, if you wanted to watch a show, you had to plop yourself in front of the TV at the scheduled time? Wax poetic over Atari 2600, the Vic 20, and a time when google was merely a misspelling of a very, very large number?

Or maybe you just can’t let go of Windows XP.

Yes, it seems odd to be talking about Windows XP in 2014, but consider this. XP is arguably the most popular operating system of all time. Believe or not, estimates show that XP is still the second-most used OS today, at an incredible 28.98%. That’s more than Windows 8, OS X, Linux, and Windows Vista combined. It’s stable, fast, and even though Microsoft would just love it if you stopped using it and moved on, it runs just about everything needed to function normally in the connected world. But the OS that previewed in 2001 is going to be thirteen years old in August, and for some time now, Microsoft, Intel, and the hardware manufacturers have been hard at work trying to force your hand. So if you’ve found a way to manage using old school hardware, and you haven’t pulled your hair out searching for drivers, you may want to stop surfing with IE 8 and take note. On April 8th of this year, Microsoft is finally ending its support for Windows XP Service Pack 3. And that could be a problem.

Security experts are already putting the word out: you may want to upgrade, and not just because Windows 7 is prettier than XP. According to Network World, April 9th – the day after Microsoft ends its XP support – could be a very bad day for XP holdovers. The milestone, says NW, has Security experts predicting that “malware creators all over the world are finding exploits anywhere they can within the OS and holding on to them. They know if they unleash an exploit now, it will be fixed. But if they are patient and wait, and hope Microsoft doesn’t find the vulnerability, then they can use it for maximum gain come April 9.”

Now, those of you who have come to love and hate Windows are undoubtedly members of the Security Patch of the Month Club. Microsoft releases more security patches than the Pope has fans, and if you’ve set up a new PC recently, you’re painfully aware that you have to go through 80 or so updates before you can even consider upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1.

“Without Microsoft to fill the holes, security will fall to the third-party players,” NW says. And that’s a big deal, because as NW points out, “they don’t have access to the operating system. They can only patch, and really good malware can get around those fixes. We’re talking some very determined criminals here.”

And with some 30% of the world still using XP, NW paints a grim picture of the possible outcome. “One thing is for sure – many of these systems will be compromised and become spambots, pumping out spam messages or becoming command-and-control servers for malware that control the spambots.”

Now, Microsoft has delayed the discontinuation of XP support several times, and there may be a possible reprieve, thanks to the government of China. You see, Microsoft is getting a lot of pressure from the Chinese government “to keep support going, and with good reason. Almost 60% of Chinese PCs are running XP, while just 36% are running Windows 7 and almost none use Windows 8, despite Microsoft cutting the price to $49.” Forty-nine, schmorty-nine, you can’t blame people for being forced to use a mobile OS on a desktop PC.

Windows 7, 8 could be in trouble

And before you dismiss this because XP is a distant dream and you’re all like 7 and 8, baby, take note: NW points out that April 9 could be a rough day for all Windows users. “First, because Microsoft reuses so much code, exploits found in one OS tend to show up in all of them. So many zero-day exploits being sat on right now might also impact Windows 7/8 machines.” And “Second, while your PCs might be secured, what’s going to happen when millions of new machines are taken over and become part of botnets? Spam volume will undoubtedly increase, as will attacks. So don’t think you can blithely go through the day in early April because you banished XP from your firm. You will feel some kind of ripples, one way or another.”

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