Tech Tip of the Week: The Demise of Windows XP

On Tuesday, April 8, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP, meaning no more updates to plug security holes. As time goes on computers running XP will become more and more insecure.

About Windows Operating Systems
Windows XP is a Microsoft operating system for PC’s that was released in 2001. In 2007 Microsoft released Windows Vista, which was intended to take over as the standard PC operating system. Vista was not generally well received, and many users continued to use XP; here at Hampshire we decided to skip deploying Vista and held out for its successor, Windows 7, released in 2009. The most current operating syste from Microsoft is Windows 8, but that is seeing a slow adoption rate because of its significant changes to the user interface.

Why XP is Still Out There after 13 Years
Windows 7 is generally well regarded, and was adopted by many PC users. Despite this enthusiasm, it did have some barriers to adoption: the system requirements–it runs best with at least 2 GB of RAM–and its cost–often more than $100. It’s also not a simple upgrade–you have to re-install any programs you have on the computer, which means it takes several hours to complete.

What’s Changing…
…or not changing, to be precise. Up until now, Microsoft has kept sending out updates to plug security holes in XP as they’ve been discovered; on April 8 of this year the last update was released. From now on Microsoft will release no security updates for Windows XP to the general public.

There is an exception to this–Microsoft is providing a paid update service to some critical use customers (did you know that 95% of ATM’s were running XP just before April 8?)–but for regular old users there will be no more updates.

How to Tell if your Computer is Running Windows XP
To check whether your PC has Windows XP, right-click on the Computer icon on your desktop or in the Start Menu, and choose “Properties.” A window will come up that will tell you what operating system you’re running.

What this Means for You
If you’re still running Windows XP on a computer, it will become less and less secure as time goes on. If it’s at all possible, it’s time to upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or Windows 8. If that’s impossible or impractical for you, take steps to make sure that you keep it as secure as possible:

  • Don’t use it for any transactions that you need to keep secure. It will become vulnerable to attacks that can steal passwords and other personal information.
  • Keep your antivirus software up to date and always running. This isn’t going to solve every problem, but it will definitely help.
  • Don’t use Internet Explorer as your browser. Choose Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.
  • When you don’t need to be connected to the internet, disconnect. That means turn off your wireless access (often there’s a switch on the side of a laptop as well as the option to turn off wireless through software), and unplug any Ethernet cable that’s connected. You can be sure there will be malware bots trolling the internet looking for XP computers to infect.

What IT is Doing About the Remaining XP Computers
We’ve been migrating users to Windows 7 over the past several years. There are still a few computers out there running XP that we’re actively scheduling for upgrades. We will be contacting everyone we’re aware of who has a Hampshire computer running Windows XP; if you don’t hear from us in the next week and are running XP, please let us know by emailing helpdesk@hampshire.edu.

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