Microsoft has recently issued a reminder that software updates, security patches and technical support for Windows XP ends on 8th April. If you haven’t planned for the impending deadline what does this really mean for your organisation?
Windows XP was launched in October 2001 and has become the most widely used and successful operating system in Microsoft’s history. According to Microsoft, Windows has been supported for more than 12 years – longer than any other Windows operating system.
Initially the end of support won’t mean much. Windows will continue to run as it normally does however Microsoft will cease providing any updates to patch for security holes or bugs. This will eventually leave your computer susceptible to attacks and security exploits. Some of these attacks can compromise your computer just from simply browsing the web.
If you’re running a business grade firewall with unified threat management (UTM) like SonicWALL which include Gateway Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Intrusion Prevention, and Application Intelligence then this will help counteract some (not all) of these attacks.
You Antivirus software will still provide some level of coverage although you should not rely solely and wholly on this.
At the time of writing this article Windows XP is still active on almost 28% of all computers that browse the web. If you’re wondering Windows Vista makes up 2.99%, Windows 8 & 8.1 account for 11.3% and Windows 7 has almost 49%. So why is 28% such an important number?
For hackers it means that any new security holes they identify in Windows XP could still be almost 28% effective. Hackers often use zero day attacks to compromise systems before your Antivirus can detect them and/or Microsoft has had a chance to patch the vulnerability. Several articles exist indicating that hackers are currently holding off on any of their attacks until after the 8th April as they know Microsoft will be drawing a line in the sand and will not plug the hole.
Microsoft has also indicated there are good security reasons for moving away from XP. According to Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report (Vol.15), XP Service Pack 3 has an 82.4% malware infection rate.
If you’re still testing your applications for compatibility on the newer operating systems or don’t have the time to upgrade them as yet then limiting internet browser access on your Windows XP computers would be highly recommended. This can be regulated at your UTM firewall or proxy server.
Regarding application compatibility, this will also soon become an issue as some application vendors will soon cease support for XP with the updated versions of their applications making them incompatible or unsupported and some application vendors are still figuring out how to run their applications on a newer operating system.
There is a nice compromise though. Windows 7 has feature called Windows XP mode in summary this would allow you run a legitimate licensed copy of Windows XP within a virtualized instance on your Windows 7 computer. This would mean that for those applications that are fully supported you’ll be able to run them natively in Windows 7 and for those application vendors that are still catching up you can run run the application in XP mode. Windows 7 licensing is still available through the Microsoft Open License program.
As XP mode is still a fully running instance of Windows XP within Windows 7 it’s still susceptible to the same security vulnerabilities mentioned earlier in this article and as such should be used only as a last resort.
If you’re still running XP in your organisation and don’t have the time to change then a SonicWALL UTM Firewall could be a good short term stopgap as this can be implemented within hours and can provide a good counter measure for zero day attacks. Quality Antivirus is also a must but in the long term you really cannot afford to overlook upgrading your operating system or replacing your computer. You’ll need to invest the time to make the change.
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