End of Windows XP support leaves software vulnerable

Photo courtesy Microsoft

(MoneyWatch) Microsoft has made no secret that support for Windows XP ends in less than a year -- April 8, 2014, to be precise. But a new initiative surfaced on the Microsoft Security blog last week to drive home the practical impact of that event.

Microsoft says all Windows XP machines will be vulnerable to hackers and other security risks -- forever.

Here's the issue in a nutshell: Starting next April, Microsoft will continue releasing updates for supported operating systems like Windows 7 and Windows 8, but not for Windows XP. But many of the vulnerabilities in modern operating systems are shared with XP; after all, they have a common underlying architecture. That means that hackers can reverse engineer the updates to uncover exploits and then use that information to attack Windows XP computers. Anytime, at their leisure, because no updates will ever come from Microsoft to patch XP machines again after that date.

Is this a valid concern? Absolutely. Microsoft is clearly desperate to migrate XP users to newer operating systems. Not just for the new revenue, though; unpatched, millions of PCs can become prime candidates to host botnet and otherwise disrupt the modern PC ecosystem. And as threats in the last few years have shifted -- there are fewer viruses and more phishing attacks, for example -- XP will be similarly ill-equipped to handle similar evolutions in the nature of hacker and criminal attacks.

So Microsoft 's blog post isn't simple fear-mongering. The company has a point. If you're currently running one or more Windows XP machines, it's time to take a good hard look at migrating to something else. Anything else -- if you're not interested in Windows 7 or Windows 8, consider the Mac or Linux. Just get off XP. The clock is ticking.

Photo courtesy Microsoft