Windows XP Support has ended: Here is what it really means

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft discontinued security patching support for Windows XP. Since it may not be clear to everyone what this means exactly, I will explain all of the ramifications here.

First thing to understand is that Windows XP will still run and run all the same programs after April 8th that it used to run before April the 8th. This part does not change. And it will remain activated. There is not concept of it becoming un-activated in this process.

Also your virus scanner will still function assuming that it is not expired, but if it is expired you can renew that one. Please read the rest of this before you decide if you want to pay money to do that.

If you were using Microsoft Security Essentials as your virus scanner, that one will not update anymore. It is permanently expired for the XP Platform. So you would need to replace it with something else but read the rest of this before you make that decision.

Access to the Internet will not be affected and Windows XP computers can still get EMail and browse the Web. Microsoft Office Applications that are on an XP Machine will also continue to work and stay activated.

Also if for some reason your XP machine is not connected to the Internet then it will not be affected as much. I will explain this but also say that most every XP machine is connected to the Internet. If you disconnect then no more EMail or Web Browsing on that machine, but I know some folks keep XP machines around to play older games and they may not need the network connection. If it is never on the network and no thumb drives or other removable media is ever attached to it, (and if it is not already infected), then the machine will be safe despite the discontinuance of support.

Now for the real world, the production XP computer that is still connected to the Internet that is still being used. Here is exactly what is happening.

Almost every Tuesday, Microsoft releases Windows Updates for all versions of Windows. This is what has now stopped for Windows XP. there will not be any more of those Windows Updates for Windows XP. What does that mean? I will explain.

Generally the purpose of these updates is to patch security holes that have been found in Windows. One might think that it would be hard to find a new (and never discovered before) security hole in an operating systems that has been pounded on by virus writers for 13 years now, but it still happens.

The problem with a security hole is it provides a potential way for malware to get onto your computer right around the virus scanner. Malware that exploits a security hole that is not patched can infect a machine and then attack the current AV “from the inside”. Once it disabled the virus scanner, it will typically download a lot of other malware. If anyone does not know “malware” is a general term including computer viruses, trojans, adware, ransomware, rootkits, hijacks and so forth.

So the end effect of the discontinuance of support is that very quickly XP computers are going to be vulnerable to malware in a way they have never been before. Chances of them getting infected go up sharply starting right now. As soon as the next security hole is found in Windows XP (if that has not happened already), all the virus writers will know that they can exploit it with no chance that it will be patched on anyone’s machine. This is potentially dangerous and serious at the same time . . . malware on the computer might cause passwords to be compromized, keyloggers might be installed, identity theft could occur because of information that virus writers will now be able to lift from easily infected Windows XP machines.

Of course unplugging the network cable (or disconnecting from wireless) mitigates the risk, but people cannot live without the Internet these days.

If someone is saying that this would not affect them because they only go on the Internet to safe and established sites, then let’s talk about that for a second. It is possible that the statement is true, but I need to offer the following guidelines. First of all if you can upgrade your machine to get off of XP then please do so. We can help you if you would like us to. If you are stuck on XP for a while for any reason the following set of rules must be put into effect immediately:

1. Never click on any Internet Advertisement, or anything on the rigth side of GMail, Yahoo Mail or Facebook or Twitter. Read EMails and posts only. Treat any link no matter what the source with great suspicion.

2. If you can, set up Outlook Express to read your mail and turn on Preview Mode. Read all your EMails by previewing them instead of actually opening each one. NEVER click an attachment unless 1. You know the sender and 2. YOU WERE EXPECTING IT. Unexpected attachments from people you know if a common way that viruses spread.

3. Learn how to disable the Network connection in XP, and disable it when you are not specifically using it. If you run the Windows Explorer (by right clicking on Start and choosing Explore), you can then Right Click on My Network Places and choose Properties and you will see the Network Adapters listed. Figure out which one you are using (easy if there is only one) and then right click on that and Choose Disable. Remember to do the same and choose Enable to start using the network again.

Please note that doing this also detaches one from the home or work network, so network printers or file sharing would not be available while it is disabled. Never leave the machine on for long periods of time connected to the network. Remember you are the boss, you get to decide when the machine gets to talk to the Network.

And still make plans to get off of XP as soon as possible. Use these counter-measures in the meantime.

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