Dangers Ahead In Microsoft Dismissal Of Windows XP

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Microsoft will no longer support its much ballyhooed Windows XP platform beginning next April. The software giant is warning businesses and consumers that using the operating system beyond the support date could result in serious problems.

Once shelved by Microsoft, the operating system will no longer receive critical security updates, leaving gaping holes for attackers to gain access to sensitive files. Businesses slow to migrate to Windows 7 or Windows 8 could be strapped with implementing costly security measures, and consumers could be exposing themselves to data thieves and other activity, said Holly Stewart, a senior program manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center.

"The security features that were built at the time were as robust as we can make them, but today they are not adequate defenses," Stewart told CRN. "This is outdated technology that's been around for 12 years and over this time frame we have seen rapid growth in online criminal activity."

The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, Volume 15, issued today, highlighted the risks of running unsupported software. Stewart said data execution prevention, one of a string of newer threat mitigation technologies implemented by Microsoft, is frequently bypassed in Windows XP.

The infection rate of Windows XP systems is also significantly higher, Stewart said. Windows XP users are six times more likely to be infected than Windows 8 users, the company's most modern operating system version.

Web traffic analysis firm StatCounter estimates that XP still makes up 21 percent of the worldwide OS market. A recent study conducted by Dimensional Research found that nearly half of the 500 IT professionals it surveyed haven't completed their migration off of Windows XP. About 16 percent haven't started. The process can be difficult because critical business applications can break.

Channel providers told CRN organizations are more likely to replace endpoint systems than upgrade existing systems to the latest operating systems. Licensing fees and labor costs don't make upgrades a cost-effective move, said John Oetinger of Missoula, Mont.-based solution provider Corporate Technology Group. Oetinger estimated that about 40 percent of the company's clients are still on Windows XP.

"The conversation about PC replacement or [virtual desktop infrastructure] is appropriate to have," Oetinger said.


NEXT: Extended Support Beyond End-Of-Life Date Available

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