Protect your PC when Windows XP shuts down [St. Joseph News-Press (MO)]
(St. Joseph News-Press (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Although the current Windows 8 advertising campaign uses the Sara Bareilles song 'Brave' in its commercials, it's the users who are clinging to one of its older operating systems who should take the song's advice to heart.
On April 8, many computer owners around the world will face unknown dangers when Microsoft stops providing automatic updates, bug fixes and security patches for Windows XP.
'Microsoft has provided support for Windows XP for the past 12 years. But now the time has come for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources toward supporting more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences,' Microsoft representatives said in a statement.
This might not seem like that big of a deal for those who upgraded years ago, but a surprising number of people still use computers running XP. Although three new Windows operating systems - - Vista, 7 and 8 -- have been created since XP's release in late 2001, CNET.com reports that 29.5 percent of Internet-connected PCs continue to use a version of the XP operating system.
Those who are shocked by that statistic should take into account that XP came pre-installed on nearly every computer purchased between 2002 and 2006. For the purposes of surfing the Web and using Microsoft Office, those machines still get the job done. CNET.com reporter Lance Whitney says that although many home users are clinging to XP, its strongest foothold is on the business side, where technological transitions don't necessarily fly by as quickly.
'Large enterprises must move thousands or tens of thousands of employees to the new version of Windows. That process requires compatibility testing both for hardware and software, scheduling, user training, and a variety of other tasks,' says Mr. Whitney, who's also a software trainer and Web developer. 'Small and mid- sized businesses have their own hurdles. Many don't necessarily have a dedicated IT staff, so they have to perform software upgrades on their own.'
Mr. Whitney adds that Microsoft's abandonment of XP could affect hospitals, banks and other businesses that use certain equipment tied specifically to the operating system. He also cites a recent Bloomberg report that stated XP still runs on more than 95 percent of the ATMs in the world.
While accountants around the globe add Windows upgrades to their company's budgets, home users likely will have to pony up the dough for Windows 7 or fight off increasing malware risks after April 8.
'Smart attackers are likely waiting to exploit holes they already know about,' says Chris Hoffman, writer for PC World. 'They'll unleash their attacks when Microsoft has moved on. The problems will never be fixed, so they can continue to attack them until the last Windows XP system vanishes from the Internet.'
Naturally, some won't be able to afford the switch to a more modern Windows operating system immediately, but Mr. Hoffman says there are some things they can do in the meantime to slow the bleeding.
First, he says, change your Web browser. Internet Explorer 8, the most recent version available for Windows XP, already is several generations old and no longer will receive security aid from Microsoft. Google Chrome will continue supporting Windows XP until at least April 2015, while Mozilla Firefox has not announced plans to stop supporting Windows XP. Either of those can be downloaded for free through Internet Explorer and would serve as much safer options.
Second, download a good antivirus program. According to PC World, the antivirus-testing company AV-TEST asked 30 different antivirus providers about their plans for Windows XP support and all of them committed to support Windows XP users until at least April of 2015. Most committed to supporting it well into 2016.
The technicians at Prolific Technologies in St. Joseph and Dave Price, owner of Professional Computer Associates in St. Joseph, recommend Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, which can be downloaded for free at www.malwarebytes.org. The Malwarebytes database is updated daily, and the program performs full malware scans. It also monitors every process and stops malware from entering your system.
Third, users should stop using Outlook Express and any versions of Microsoft Office 2003 or older. Microsoft already has stopped supporting Outlook Express and will stop supporting those Office programs on April 8. Each will be highly prone to viruses and other risks. While you're at it, Mr. Hoffman says XP users should remove software that already has been proven to be susceptible to malware, such as the Java plug-in and outdated versions of Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader.
Last but not least, use XP 'offline' when you can. If you still need to run a crucial business application that's only compatible with XP, for example, run it while being disconnected from the Internet. If you're not on the Web or a local network, your computer isn't at risk.
'If you can, this is the easiest, most foolproof way to keep an important Windows XP computer secure,' Mr. Hoffman says.
Eventually, all Windows XP users will need to move on. The good news is that Microsoft will support Windows 7 through at least 2020, and it's a great transition operating system for those still accustomed to using XP. Hopefully, some of these tips will get XP users by safely until they make the change.
'If you can't upgrade, there are some things you can do to protect yourself,' Mr. Hoffman says. 'Make no mistake: These tricks are like sticking your finger in a leaking dam. They'll help a bit, but the dam is crumbling and it's time to get out of the way.'
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