Continuing on With Windows XP: The Simple Risks

News that Microsoft will no longer be supporting its Windows XP operating system after April 8, 2014, has organizations still in the trenches with Windows XP shaking their heads. What risk does this pose? Is it cause for concern? Here are some straight answers.

Continuing to run Windows XP after April 8 should not pose an immediate and abrupt threat. A good analogy is to look at it like drinking expired milk – a day after, you’re probably okay. The longer you let it sit, however, the more likely you’ll get sick.

The major risks associated with Windows XP are largely security related. Microsoft will no longer patch and update critical problems, which leaves a computer vulnerable to malware. Taking precautions such as keeping the system off the Internet, running the operating system in a virtual machine and using limited-access user accounts are now essential steps to reducing those risks. Most software still needs to access data on other devices, however, which means it will ‘talk’ to other computers on your business network. So, after April 8, a computer running Windows XP needs only to be connected to one other computer on your system for you to have potentially big problems on your hands. If your legacy software requires additional tools such as Java and Flash, you have a higher risk of potential vulnerability on Windows XP because those applications are more likely to “auto run” without your knowledge. If you find yourself in this situation, stop using Internet Explorer 8 and switch to the latest Firefox or Chrome browser to reduce your risk of compromise through a website.

To a lesser degree is the issue that hardware and software support is going away. This means a driver problem or software change from a line-of-business application can cause business interruption with no one to help resolve it. Legacy software that requires Windows XP should be evaluated very closely to determine what steps are needed to upgrade or find a new replacement. Keep in mind, Windows XP and the software running on it were developed before the iPhone existed. The computing world has changed dramatically since then and it is probably impossible for the legacy software to change.

If you have to continue using Windows XP because of an old software application, you should be making plans to move on. You may think Microsoft just wants to sell you a new Windows license, but remember: It has been 12 years. If you compare a car to a computer, you’d likely be ready to move on. Think in dog years and that system is the equivalent of an 84 year old.

Given these perspectives, the risks of continuing to run on an unsupported operating system are far too great to be a practical tool for your business. It is less painful to plan and move on to a supported Windows version than to find out you’ve lost your line-of-business application to an obscure issue that can no longer be fixed.