Everybody panic! On Tuesday, April 8, Microsoft will stop “supporting” Windows XP. If you’re still using a computer that’s running this old operating system, you do have options. I covered them very recently: Still on Windows XP? Here’s Some Bad Advice.
But what if none of the options work for you? What if, for a perfectly good reason (like the fact that upgrading from XP will cost you either money or time, and you have neither), you’re stuck with a computer using XP? What’s going to happen to you and your computer on April 9?
Nothing you’ll notice, at least not right away. Windows XP will continue to work. But your risk of a security breach into your computer increases over time. Microsoft is adamant that Windows XP can no longer be considered a safe place to store your digital assets.
Even though the operating system has been repaired (“patched”) literally over 1,000 times, it’s got an old foundation, and it can’t stand up to modern security threats. Unless you want your data stolen, your home network hacked, or your computer taken over to be used as a slave to send spam, you need to get off this creaky platform. That’s what Microsoft says.
But if you have to keep using an old XP machine, you can decrease your exposure in a few ways:
1. Get the last version.
Make sure you have the final version of Windows XP. Connect your computer to the Internet and let it update itself. Or find Windows Update on your computer and let it run. Make your version of XP as secure as possible, because it’s not going to get any better after this.
The author digs out his old IBM laptop to give it one final update.
2. Update your antivirus software.
Microsoft will continue to support its own Security Essentials add-on app for Windows until July 2015. Make sure it’s updated (it should handle this itself, or you can force it by opening the app and asking it to update). Security software is a strong line of defense, but it can’t protect you from everything.
3. Make sure your browser is up to date.
Since the most common threats your machine is likely to see will probably come through websites you visit, be sure you’re running a modern and up-to-date browser. All the current versions of the major browsers offer better security than that other giant Microsoft product that people still use, Internet Explorer 6. Get off that thing right now.
4. Be extra careful with email.
Do not open attachments on your XP computer: PDFs, Word files, attached programs, and so on. Even those that appear to be from people you know. The “from” line in an email message can be forged, and happy-looking emails from friends are great vectors for infection.
5. The same goes for Facebook.
It’s fine to read updates, but you’re at risk if you click on links to stories or sites that show up in your feed, even if they appear to be from people you know.
6. Be extra, extra careful with USB sticks, CDs, and DVDs.
These can carry malware. Your security software might catch it, but it might not. Best bet is to not use any kind of external media with this computer, especially USB sticks.
7. For the ultimate in safety, disconnect from the Internet.
Not a joke. And it’s actually a workable idea for people who are using their XP computers for dedicated functions, like cash registers. If it doesn’t need to be connected to the world, disconnect it. Do your email and web browsing on a modern device, like your smartphone or tablet, if you can.
All things end
Microsoft has a public document stating when it will stop supporting various versions of Windows. Today may be the end for XP, but its newer products have termination dates, too. If you’re on Windows Vista (which hopefully you’re not; it’s terrible), you have until April 11, 2017. Windows 7 users will be abandoned on Jan. 14, 2020. The clock is even ticking on Windows 8.1: Microsoft is planning to end support for today’s operating system on Jan. 10, 2023.
Rafe Needleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @rafe.