[IMGCAP(1)]Let’s face facts: In less than six months Windows XP will be at its “end of life” and if you are still on this system your business will be on its own. So how do you keep your business and clients safe and stable after April 8, 2014?

For anyone still unaware, on the aforementioned date Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP. This means that there will be no more bug fixes, security patches, or even free and paid phone and online support for this operating system, regardless of if you have a support contract. So what is the risk of continuing to run Windows XP after its end of support date?  If you have not already, you need to start upgrading your computers to a new, supported operating system immediately and every day you choose to continue to use XP your practice is vulnerable.

Unsupported systems can be hacked. Malicious users can take control of your machine and use it as a platform to attack other computers on the internet. This wastes your valuable computing resources and network bandwidth. It could also make you liable for damages caused by these attacks because they came from your network.

XP is more much more likely to be infected by a virus or spyware than modern, supported operating systems like Windows 7 and 8. These programs are designed to alter, steal, or destroy your data. CryptoLocker, for example, is a piece of malware that locks the data on your machine and holds it for ransom. It secretly encrypts your files, making them impossible to access, and then sends an email demanding money (usually paid by Bitcoin – essentially untraceable) in exchange for unencrypting the files. If you don’t pay the ransom by the deadline in the email your files are lost forever.

On supported versions of Windows, updates are developed to fix security holes as soon as they are identified. With XP there will be no new security updates. Hackers will continue to find ways to attack your XP system and no one will be working to stop them. Between July 2012 and July 2013 Windows XP was affected by 45 Microsoft security bulletins. The represents 45 known exploits in just one year. New vulnerabilities are discovered all the time. If you run XP you will never be able to trust that your computer is safe - ever again.

The process Microsoft uses to identify and fix bugs will actually help criminals attack Windows XP. The details of each vulnerability fixed in Windows 7 and 8 are published as part of the patch process. Some of these defects will also be present in XP. Microsoft will tell hackers exactly how and what to attack on your unsupported system. 

Windows XP was the state of the art when it was release 12 years ago, but the security countermeasures built into the OS are no longer effective against modern exploits and attacks.  XP created an arms race between tech savvy criminals and corporate security experts. Every time a flaw was fixed or a hole filled, hackers found new ones to exploit. The ongoing brinkmanship resulted in new operating systems with robust security controls and features. It also resulted in better criminals with formidable skill. This evolution changed the way hackers approach a system. In 2013 using Windows XP is the equivalent of a prop plane having a dogfight against an F-22 jet fighter.

Subject to compliance laws?

If you accept credit cards, you are subject to PCI compliance. If you are a healthcare provider or a company who does business with a healthcare provider then you are subject to HIPAA compliance.  These laws are complex, but clear that you must apply security patches and keep your computers up to date.  With Windows XP this will no longer be possible and is an immediate failure on your compliance audit.

How can I protect my machines and business?

The new versions of Windows are secure, stable and supported by Microsoft. These operating systems have much better security and performance and a great new user experience. Windows 7 is now the most popular OS in the world. As of July 2013 it runs on almost 45 percent of computers in the world. It, and the recently release Windows 8, offer many more features, better security, and increased performance over Windows XP.

Windows 7 is supported until 2020 and Windows 8 to 2023. Microsoft will provide systems and security patching and new features and functionality for at least the next decade. Moving to a modern OS now will help keep your business safe and secure now and for years to come.

Jeffery Cusick is a business process improvement specialist at business technology consultancy Flexible Business Systems. His team helps small and medium sized businesses adopt technology to transform their business. Jeff holds many certifications from vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, CompTia, and Epic Systems. He possesses an expertise in general business process and ERP, CRM, eCommerce, and warehouse management systems.


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