You’ve probably been getting the warnings popping up on your computer’s desktop and in your Microsoft Security Essentials dialogs for a few weeks, and you’ve been seeing the headlines for longer than that. If you have Facebook friends in the IT industry, doubtlessly they’ve been sharing articles for the past six to twelve months.
By now, you’ve realized that your Windows XP computer didn’t explode or stop working after the sunset of support, so what are the implications of continuing to use an unsupported operating system? For one, if you need to call Microsoft for support with any problems from this day forward, they’re not going to help you. If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t called Microsoft in the past dozen years, so you won’t miss the fact that they’re not going to be there going forward. bit.ly/windowstxt Rest assured that for as long as you want to continue using XP, consultancies like Maverick Solutions will be there to help solve any problems you may have.
Without Microsoft support, however, there will be no more security patches, feature updates, bug-fixes, or driver updates. Presumably after 12 years, Microsoft has probably found and resolved most of the bugs. For all the current hardware in existence, drivers have already been published if they’re going to be. There will be no new Windows features, so today’s Windows XP is the best it’s ever going to get.
What about security? Hackers have been attacking technology for as long as people have been using technology, and nothing is going to change that. In the past, when Microsoft identified a vulnerability in Windows XP, they released a patch to correct it. The identification of vulnerabilities, however, is typically the result of analyzing exploitations of those vulnerabilities, after the fact. Just like medicine doesn’t create vaccinations before diseases are discovered, so, too, security experts don’t patch security holes until someone finds and exploits those holes. Even then, it takes time to develop solutions, and it takes time to distribute them to Windows users. If your computer was configured to automatically download and install Windows updates, it still might have taken a week or longer before your computer received and installed security patches. If your computer was configured otherwise, you might have never received such patches.
In fact, there are millions of bad guys attacking technology, and many fewer security experts defending us from them, so the good guys tend to apply a sort of triage when determining which holes to patch first. The ones which have the potential to cause the most widespread damage are remediated first, and the more-obscure or less-harmful ones are left on the back burner. Third-party anti-malware software has the same shortcomings, so relying solely on operating system patches and anti-malware software is never the best way to protect your systems.
The fact that Microsoft is stopping support for XP and moving their security experts to the later operating systems is actually a good sign for Windows XP users, in a way. Just as security experts try to make the most of their time by remediating the most-widespread, most-harmful malware, hackers economize on their time, too, by attacking the most common software. If less than one percent of today’s computers still use 1980s Microsoft DOS, there’s no vig in finding vulnerabilities; there would be terribly few places to exploit those vulnerabilities and it would take time to even locate those systems. Microsoft moving its security experts’ mitigation efforts from Windows XP to the later operating systems is indicative of the increasing market-share of those operating systems, which will also attract more hackers away from Windows XP.