Windows XP Support Expiration Doesn't Mean It's Time to Panic

NEWS ANALYSIS: It's far too late to panic if you haven't already migrated to a newer version of Windows. Now you need to decide how to protect your data and what your next move will be.

Last time we checked, nearly 30 percent of Windows users were still running XP. This was despite the dire warnings from Microsoft that security updates would stop, leaving the affected computers vulnerable to attack by malware developers.

Now that the time has come, some are suggesting that hoards of malware will descend on your computer, seeking to take advantage of your unprotected machine, turning your computer into a zombie, or worse, stealing your data, your identity and financial information.

That's the warning. Now let's look at what will actually happen.

First, assuming your computer has had every update Microsoft has provided, you have at least a little while in which your freshly patched XP machine will be able to hold out against the forces of evil. But as time goes on, the threat of a security breach on your machine will grow and eventually the built-in protection could yield to malware attacks. Or, at least, that's the official word.

But if you're a sensible user, you've got antivirus or anti-malware software running on your machine that will continue to be updated and which will guard you against most of the malware out there. But you'll be missing one layer of protection at the operating system level.

So while you're protected, you're more vulnerable than you would have been otherwise. New Windows XP vulnerabilities are sure to appear. And the vendors selling your protection software may not keep it going forever.

Exactly how you respond to this higher level of risk depends in large part on what you're doing with that XP computer of yours. A great deal also depends on why the XP machine hasn't already been upgraded.

For many of you, the real reason you're still on XP is because you’re a bank, and the maker of your ATM sold it with XP on it and hasn't provided an update. If that's the case, the good news is that Microsoft will continue to support security updates as long as you enter into a service agreement. But the cost of that service agreement isn't going to be cheap, so it's likely a good idea to start leaning on Diebold or NCR or whoever makes your ATM for an update.

There's also a good likelihood that you're in the health care field and your medical equipment is operated by an XP machine. Depending on the details of how your equipment works, XP may not be a factor as long as the device isn't connected to the outside world.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...