Should Microsoft allow almost half a billion PCs to become potential prey for hackers?

Should Microsoft allow almost half a billion PCs to become potential prey for hackers?

Summary: So is Microsoft right to pull the plug on Windows XP support? I think it is. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think April is as good a time as any.

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TOPICS: Windows
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While Microsoft would like all eyes on the upcoming Windows 8.1 Update 1 release, but what many of us are focused on is the fact that Windows XP will soon hit the end of support date.

See also: Windows 8.1 Update 1: Meh, it'll have to do I suppose 

Windows XP is a ticking timebomb for Microsoft. This that the operating system – which was first released at the turn of the millennium – is dead and gone?  Think again. Estimates suggest that there are some 488 million PCs in the wild running the aging operating system. That's a shade under half a billion PCs in all.

That's a huge number, and it accounts for some 30 percent of all PCs according to metrics site NetApplications.

Can Microsoft allow almost half a billion internet-connected PCs to fall into the hands of hackers as newly-discovered vulnerabilities are no longer patched after the April 8th deadline?

Many of these PCs – estimates put the figure at around 70 percent – are in China, where the operating system was enthusiastically pirated. Last week a report suggested that Microsoft had struck a deal with the Chinese government to extend support for Windows XP, but this was later denied by Microsoft and the mistake put down to a translation error.

To be honest, it really wouldn't make much sense for Microsoft to extend support for China alone given that Microsoft's own data shows that some 70 percent of Chinese Windows XP users had never installed any updates.

Truth is, no one supports software longer than Microsoft does, and it is now time for Windows XP to be retired. While I think that Microsoft is talking a "too little, too late" attitude to warning people that the Windows XP "end of support" date is fast approaching. Then there was Microsoft's stumble with Windows Vista that prolonged the life of the platform and saw it being installed on PCs – especially netbooks – for far too long.

So is Microsoft right to pull the plug on Windows XP support? I think it is. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think April is as good a time as any. Also, given the high proportion of Window XP PCs in China, and how poorly patched most of these are anyway, extending the cut off date for support does little to protect the ecosystem. I'm going to hazard a guess that there are a lot of Windows XP-powered PCs out there that are festering hellstews of malware.

But what should you do if you are running Windows XP? My advice is to get off it as soon as you can. If nothing else, realize you're on borrowed time, and that over the coming months software companies will be dropping support for the product.

If you have to run Windows XP beyond the end of support deadline, security firm F-Secure has published some helpful information to help users do that safely. At the very least you should:

  • Install all updates up to and including the final update.
  • Move off Internet Explorer as your default browser. Install Google Chrome or Firefox.
  • If you are running Microsoft Office, fully patch that and tighten up security. Be wary of documents from unknown sources.
  • Remove any software not in use, including both third-party software and stuff bundled with Windows XP.
  • Uninstall Java unless you absolutely need it.
  • Install an up-to-date security product that includes antivirus and firewall.
  • If possible, disconnect the system from the internet. If not, firewall it.
  • Don't get complacent about security.
  • Come up with a plan to transition from Windows XP to a newer operating system. Microsoft has some resources to help.

And remember, time is running out.

Topic: Windows

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142 comments
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  • You missed the #1 rule to be safe on windows

    Don't run as an administrator, create a limited account for daily use.

    Do this and you eliminate 99% of any risks.
    everss02
    • I was just about to say this as well

      If people must continue to use XP, this alone is the most important thing they should do.
      Emacho
    • And further, the title is rediculous!!

      "Should Microsoft allow almost half a billion PCs to become potential prey for hackers?"

      Well, if the vote is no; implying that Microsoft should keep the OS secure and operable indefinitely, then this certainly takes a great deal of ambition out of any company to produce an operating system that can be sold profitably due to the fact that a customer would purchase it once and for all and the producer is required to see to its security for ever!!

      Seems a little onerous to me.

      Im all for a company taking some responsibility for the long term, but its a little harsh to say "almost forever".
      Cayble
      • Errr

        I guess you don't read Adrian Kingsley-Hughes' "articles". They are almost always have sensationalism in it - even the titles. I think he work for the National Enquirer or something before.
        Gisabun
      • Microsoft not responsible

        What about my iPhone 3GS? That is still running nicely, but I'm not getting any security updates from Apple. The same for my old iMac and Mac mini. They have also been abandoned by Apple.

        That SUSE 7 server in the corner?

        At the end of the day, manufacturers have to stop supporting products as some point, because it becomes uneconomical to do so.

        It is the same with our customers, we support them up to a point, but if they want new features and cheap support, they have to upgrade to the newer versions. If they don't want to upgrade, then they have to pay for that extra support on those old, non supported versions.

        Microsoft is doing the same. If you want to keep using XP, then you can take out an extended support contract with them and they will provide you with fixes for any bugs you find - on a cost basis, which I believe runs to 5 or 6 digits per fix.
        wright_is
      • If the hadn't sold buggy products,they wouldn't have to suppot them

        What is "XP Support"? It isn't adding new features, or selling new copies, or providing training in its use, it is just fixing what shouldn't have been broken in the first place. Car companies don't get to "end of life" their vehicles to get out of recalls or having to fix manufacturer defects that affect safety, so why should software companies get to avoid liability for sloppy work?

        If you want people to "upgrade", then supply attractive features in your next product...don't force customers to buy the next buggy product under threat of attack for sticking with the previous one whe you decide you are tired of fixing your sloppy work. Software is the only consumer product that behaves this way...and other than "that's the way its been", what reason is there to continue?
        plonk
        • What are you talking about

          Software matures in time... Things change and therefore protection needs to change. And nothing is perfect. Car companies do get to stop supporting their cars, its called warrenty. After that you are SOL. They even stop producing most of the parts after their warrenty is over, so you have to buy aftermarket parts. They EOL vehicles and designs and other stuff all the time, and they don't have to support it one bit. its only if there is a major design flaw that causes issues for everyone and then they get sued over it is there some sort of recall.
          Jimster480
      • Hmmm But it Microsoft's fault that they're still in XP

        The bottom line is that Microsoft never gave XP users a tenable migration path to viable upgrade.

        Face it, Vista was crap. And that it the only tenable upgrade route XP users were ever offered.

        It is generally easier for an XP user to migrate to Linux or MacOS than to migrate to Windows 7 or 8.

        This situation is 100% microsoft's fault.

        Saying a long time has passed, when the users were never given a route forward, is crass.

        Start measuring the time from when MS provides a proper migration route from XP to 7, 8 or 9.
        Henry 3 Dogg
        • Nonsense!

          Vista's teething problems were ironed out more quickly than xp's were. The only migration problems after that were for users of software that was non-compliant with 2001 security standards.
          Lester Young
    • People who know that much about computers

      ...should have already upgraded their OS.
      jskson
    • That's true for running any OS.

      The big trouble with Windows up through xp is the level of system access that software is privileged by default. The wall between user and administrator or even higher is porous.

      It's time to restrict xp to closed systems as a default rule.
      Lester Young
  • Should Microsoft allow almost half a billion PCs to become potential prey f

    "Can Microsoft allow almost half a billion internet-connected PCs to fall into the hands of hackers as newly-discovered vulnerabilities are no longer patched after the April 8th deadline?"
    That is not Microsoft's responsibility so yes they can. They made it quite clear they were going to end support for Microsoft Windows XP as well as had several versions of Microsoft Windows released since then. Anyone still on Microsoft Windows XP should be planning to migrate to Microsoft Windows 8 immediately. They had plenty of time to do so.
    Loverock.Davidson
    • They always were prey.

      And there has been no significant change either.
      jessepollard
      • Nor in your posts, obviously

        .
        William.Farrel
    • Why Windows 8?

      Most people hate the new interface. At least upgrade to Windows 7. Plus, who in their right mind would run a computer without a firewall or antivirus?
      Simba7
      • Microsoft Windows 8

        Microsoft Windows 8 is the latest and greatest from Microsoft and will be supported for many years to come. It offers a lot such as improved functionality, security, and stability. The hatred towards the new interface is unfounded and stems from preconceived notions about it being bad. I asked people what they don't like about it and they could never give me a clear answer. Then I show them the advantages of live tiles, how to get to their applications, desktop mode if they need it. The list goes on and on.
        Loverock.Davidson
        • Microsoft Windows 8

          Loverock.Davidson says "Microsoft Windows 8 is the latest and greatest" (Nyaah Nyaah). So important to sugar coat this here, is it? Windows 2000 had the Desktop right. Windows XP severely damaged it - you could opt almost everything to sanity, but not quite. Windows 6 and 6.1 (Windows Vista and Windows 7) reduced usefulness and usability (ruined Start menu, ruined Explorer display, Explorer search, Explorer window sizes, Explorer attributes display). Windows 8 - even more "progress", take away the Start button and wheedle it back (8.1), ruin the Recycle Bin, but pitch Windows 8 as "the same desktop" when it assuredly it is not, and provides no option to put it the way you want it to be. God Fuck Microsoft. Sugar and Joy! You are scum.
          dv5678
        • Here's your clear answer

          1)Optimized for tablets
          2)4-bit color scheme(purple and white I think are the dominant "gay" colors at the moment
          3)No transparency theme(Aero) on desktops - stripped away for what reason I have no idea. I guess because tablets would choke on the transparency theme so take it - desktop uers? **** THEM!!!! #DEALWITHIT!!!
          4)Touch is the primary interface on a desktop(up until Windows 8.1.1 is released - but it doesn't change the fact that the UI was, in fact, designed for tablets.

          If your going to release an operating system and "pretend" that the desktop is irrelevant you should have had the *balls* to go all the way with it. They already blatantly showed a complete disrespect for the desktop community be releasing this garbage. They should have given us double middle fingers and said "Windows 8 is tablet only, so **** YOU DESKTOP USERS!!!. We don't need you anymore"

          I would have respected that more. Trying to pawn this Windows 8 garbage off as a desktop operating system was the biggest insult to the very people who made them billionaires. It's so not even funny anymore.
          j4w4
      • Not as bad as they say..

        There seems to be this consensus that if you have a PC connected to the internet it instantly brings viruses in. This is not the case and it is really not that bad, stay off porn sites & dont click/accept ads or unknown programs. This is harder obviously if the computer is used by multiple people, but if it is used by 1 person with half an idea on computers it is very possible to stay virus free.
        Frenz9
    • Should Microsoft allow almost half a billion PCs to become potential prey f

      Loverock.Davidson says "... so yes they can" (Nyaah Nyaah). The real question (article title) is "Should Microsoft allow half a billion PCs to ..." become the Largest Botnet Ever (given that they are about the only ones who could prevent it)??? The serious aspects are: 1) WHAT will really happen IF they actually let this nascent disaster happen? 2) How will people feel after Microsoft destroys the Internet? Sunshine and Flowers! You are scum.
      dv5678