Alexander: Many at risk as end of XP security nears

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2014 - 5:24 PM

Microsoft isn’t relenting on its plan to end security updates for Windows XP on April 8, even though it appears that hundreds of thousands of XP PCs will be left vulnerable to hackers.

Microsoft warned years ago that XP support would end and now says it won’t halt the shift.

Despite being introduced in 2001, Windows XP is still used by about 29 percent of all PCs in the world, and many of them won’t be replaced before the deadline.

Consumers face the prospect of having their PCs taken over by hackers who find XP security holes that Microsoft will no longer fix.

The Washington Post reported that “hundreds of thousands” of federal government PCs running XP won’t be upgraded to newer versions of Windows by the cut-off date, making them “unusually vulnerable to hackers.” (See tinyurl.com/ofxcrqk.)

Several readers have asked why Microsoft doesn’t block this impending threat by continuing to offer XP security updates beyond April 8. Here’s what Microsoft says:

“We focus on bringing new products to market,” said Chance Garrity, general manager of Microsoft’s North Central District, which includes Minnesota and six other Midwestern states. “XP is now 13 years old, and that’s really old technology. Windows XP was never built for the Internet, wireless communications or the security breaches we see today. I can’t imagine anybody using a cellphone or an MP3 music player from 13 years ago.”

Garrity agrees that there is no substitute for the XP security updates Microsoft is discontinuing, but notes that “Microsoft gave everyone notice of the end of XP support at least seven years ago.”

But Microsoft’s customers aren’t all being treated equally. Big corporations that can’t finish upgrading by April 8 will be allowed to buy XP support from Microsoft until they do, but consumers can’t do that, Garrity said.

Why are people still using XP? Because it worked so well, said Mark Ackmann, who runs the Edina franchise of CMIT Solutions, an Austin, Texas-based IT firm.

“When Windows XP came out, stability was king,” Ackmann said. “There had been quite a bit of instability in previous versions of Windows, but XP was just a rock. It performed well from the get-go, and people grew very comfortable with it.”

Now that XP security updates are ending, Ackmann is advising clients to switch quickly to Windows 7 by purchasing a new PC for $350 to $600.

“If they’ve been on XP this many years, they’re not ready to jump to Windows 8,” which operates differently, Ackmann said. “Windows 7 is more of a straight upgrade.”

Microsoft’s Garrity urges XP users not to wait any longer.

“You’re putting yourself at pretty severe risk after April 8,” he said. “If it were my XP PC with my data and my photos, I wouldn’t want it exposed like that.”

 

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 ­Portland Av. S., ­Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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