April 9, 2014
Microsoft will suspend support for the persistently popular Windows XP this week, and the move could put matters, including the operations of heavy industry and the identities of everyday people, in danger.
An estimated 30% of computers being used by businesses and consumers around the world are still running the 12-year-old operating system.
"What once was considered low-hanging fruit by hackers now has a big neon bull's-eye on it," said Patrick Thomas, a security consultant at the San Jose, CA-based firm Neohapsis.
Microsoft has released a handful of Windows operating systems since 2001, but XP's popularity and the durability of the computers it was installed on kept it around longer than expected. Analysts say that if a PC is more than five years old, chances are it's running XP.
While users can still run XP, Microsoft said it will no longer provide security updates, issue fixes to non-security related problems or offer online technical content updates. The company is discontinuing XP to focus on maintaining its newer operating systems, the core programs that run personal computers.
Microsoft said it will provide anti-malware-related updates through July 14, 2015, but warned that the tweaks could be of limited help on an outdated operating system.
Most industry experts say they recognize that the time for Microsoft to end support for such a dated system has come, but the move poses both security and operational risks for the remaining users. In addition to home computers, XP is used to run water treatment facilities, power plants and small businesses such as doctor's offices.
Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes, said that without patches to fix bugs in XP, PCs will be prone to freezing up and crashing, while the absence of updated security-related protections makes the computers susceptible to hackers.
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