Opinion by Ondrej Vlcek, Chief Operations Officer at AVAST Software
The termination of security updates by Microsoft to Windows XP will create severe security issues. The already rather unsafe operating system will face even more risks with the missing security updates, but the question is: Should Windows XP users be the only ones worried?
Microsoft recently announced that technical support will no longer be available for Windows XP as of April 8, 2014, ending automatic updates for the operating system. Microsoft will also eventually stop providing anti-malware signature updates to XP users, in 2015. Abandoning Windows XP is a big mistake, especially since Microsoft has not been very successful in transitioning XP users to newer systems. The AVAST database shows that 23.6% of its more than 200 million users is still running Windows XP.
XP users more susceptible to attacks than Windows 7 users
The abandonment by Microsoft will not only affect Windows XP users, but will create a big security problem for the whole ecosystem. Tens of millions of PCs running XP connected to the Internet, unpatched and without security updates, are just waiting to be exploited. The vulnerable OS will be an easy target for hackers and be seen as a gateway to infect other non-XP operating systems. Our telemetry data shows that XP users are 6 times more likely to get attacked than Windows 7 users and once Microsoft stops issuing patches, this can worsen.
The next Target-like attack is brewing
Home users are not the only ones who will be affected by the Windows XP support cutoff, according to reports*, 95% of ATMs in the world still run on Windows XP. These ATMs along with businesses still using Windows XP on their PCs need to be updated, or at the very least seek alternative protection. Medical offices that store confidential patient information and stores that keep customer details, such as credit card numbers, on their computers running Windows XP could easily be attacked. The Target data breach last year was conducted through a trojan that attacked the shops’ point of sales system. If businesses don’t keep their systems safe, we will, unfortunately, see more of data breaches like this. The news of the XP support cutoff was published a year ago, which means that IT professionals should be well aware of the change and the consequences it will have. For those who haven’t taken action yet, the time is now.
AVAST is devoted to protecting the PC ecosystem by not only supporting Windows XP for at least the next three years, but also by creating protection modules and detections specifically designed to cover Windows XP vulnerabilities and other security problems. We have already taken additional steps in our latest product release, avast! 2014, by making the product lighter, both in terms of speed and resource consumption, tailoring it for older machines still running Windows XP. In addition to the security value, avast! 2014 is offered for free, which is especially important for XP users. Upgrading to a newer version of Windows comes with costs, costs that not everyone can afford and is probably a big reason why many users haven’t upgraded yet.
Another reason to ditch Internet Explorer
In addition to Windows XP itself being a security risk, Internet Explorer on Windows XP poses an even larger threat. The latest version of the browser available on Windows XP is version 8, making it outdated and lacking a number of security improvements available in its later versions. Of our existing Windows XP user database, 21.5% run Internet Explorer, leaving themselves open to easy attacks. Google Chrome is a good alternative and is fully compatible with Windows XP, updating itself automatically.
Windows XP users will not be the only ones affected by the end of updates by Microsoft and should not be the only ones worrying about the end date. Users still running Windows XP need to act both proactively and responsibly to ensure safety for not only their own data and PC, but for that of others as well.
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