Tips for you that still want to work with Windows XP
By Charles Miller
My aunt who lives in San Luis Potosí, a computer-literate octogenarian, asks the question I have heard several times lately. One of the estimated half billion PCs still running the persistently popular Windows XP belongs to her, and she asks me just how safe it is to continue using it now that Microsoft is no longer going to provide any more security updates for it. There are a number of steps she can take to improve her online security, and because these are things anyone can do on any Windows computer I hope that users of Windows 7 and 8 will also take time to read this too.
The first thing to understand is that Windows XP did not die on April 8, 2014. That was just the date on which Microsoft told the world that it was no longer going to fix any future problems that might be discovered. Hundreds of millions of computers running XP are still working just fine and could conceivably continue to do so for years to come. To help things along I have prepared a checklist of some things everyone should do.
Almost all Windows users run their computers while logged on as the Administrator user. This is super convenient because they can do anything anytime such as install new software and make system changes. It is also a very bad idea from a security standpoint because most virus and malware infections require administrative privileges in order to do what they do. It is much safer to setup a limited (or standard) user account and use that rather than running as the administrator at all times.
Next, uninstall Flash and Java. You will need to be logged in as administrator to do this. Some web sites that require these browser plugins will not work anymore, but neither will the virus or malware that can exploit these programs. If you absolutely have to use Flash or Java, then learn how to update them and do so on a regular basis.
Microsoft Internet Explorer cannot be uninstalled, but you can erase its shortcut icons then make a vow to never again use it. Download and install an alternative web browser such as Firefox, Opera or Safari that will continue to be updated. My personal preference is Firefox.
Consider using a script blocker such as NoScript. This browser addin will block web sites from being able to perform drive-by installs of most virus or malware. Some web sites will not display properly if you block scripting, but a lot of unwanted advertising is also going to be blocked. Not being able to see some web sites is the price you may have to pay for using an unsupported Operating System such as XP.
The suggestions above are things you can do to protect yourself and your old Windows XP computer online. There is a much more important yet difficult-to-enforce defensive measure, and that is to show some self-discipline and behave yourself. Most drive-by installs of Trojans, viruses and malware are found on porn, piracy and gambling web sites, so just stay away from those. The attack vector for most infections is via maliciously-crafted emails, so make it a rule to never never ever click on links in emails or open attachments, especially from people you know.
Microsoft may no longer be supporting Windows XP but that is only the base Operating System. The makers of Adobe Reader, Firefox, Flash, Java, and many antivirus software makers will continue to provide updates for a while; in the case of Microsoft’s antivirus that will be until July 14, 2015. If you continue to use Windows XP then it becomes incumbent on you to learn how to update, then to do so on a regular basis.
Eventually though these companies will stop updating their products as the XP user base continues to shrink. Still, it is reasonable to hope you will be able to squeeze perhaps another year or two out of your old XP system
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.