By Charles Miller
Last November in this column, coinciding with Día de Muertos, I warned of the impending death of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system. Much to the consternation of Microsoft and the concern of Information Technology support people such as me, Windows XP still holds tenaciously to 29 percent of the Operating System market worldwide. This fact is worrisome because after April 8, 2014 Windows XP will no longer be supported and the will be no more security updates for this twelve-year-old OS. My hope is that by addressing this subject one more time in this column I may be able to help readers understand the ramifications of this situation in order for them to understand why this matters.
Microsoft has been beating the drum increasingly louder warning of “Zero-Day Forever” for those who continue to use Windows XP. “Zero-Day” is the term used to describe some software vulnerability that is discovered and exploited by cyber criminals before it is known to the software makers. When this happens, the software vendors (Adobe, Apple, Java, Microsoft, etc.) try to respond quickly to the threat to protect the users of their software. In the case of Windows XP Microsoft is warning its users that after the end-of-life date that attacks targeting XP will all be zero-day and they will all be forever.
The reality of the situation we face now is that there are millions of computer users who are going to continue using XP after April 8, 2014. The question is, “ What is going to happen to them? In an effort to answer that I will attempt to envisage several possible scenarios.
One is that nothing bad will happen and that the Windows XP user will be able to continue using their computer blissfully ignorant of its vulnerabilities. Someone who does not even have their computer connected to the internet has nothing to fear. There are users who only use the internet for email, who practice safe computing practices such as never visiting questionable web sites, these users might be able to continue using XP until their computer wears out in a few years.
A more likely scenario is that someday a new virus or malware will come along that will infect unprotected computers including Windows XP. Users of newer supported versions of Operating Systems will be able to download a security update to prevent a reoccurrence of this infection, but anyone still using XP will have no such option. For them the only way to rid themselves of the infection might be to wipe their computer hard disk clean and reinstall Windows XP from a backup or from the original install CD. Then they will be able to reconnect their computer to the internet and that is the point at which the real hopelessness of their situation will become apparent. Since their XP system will still unprotected they can expect it to be reinfected again, perhaps within minutes.
Continuing to use an infected computer system might not be an option. My friend Don in Tyler, Texas tried that until one day his business had its internet connection disconnected. The notice he received from Southwestern Bell Telephone told him they had determined his infected computer was spreading malware to other SWB customers and that his internet service would not be restored until he could prove he had cleaned the infections from all the computers in his office. Not having access to the internet forced him to shut down his business for several days; this and computer repairs caused him a significant financial loss.
Fortunately, I do not see this happening to most Windows XP users. What I do see is that over the coming months or years these computers will be infected or the computer will wear out, then the user will replace their old computer with one using a never version of Windows.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.