Microsoft has ended support for Windows XP, but many people want to or need to keep it. While the lack of support increases the likelihood of problems, you can reduce your level of risk by adopting secure computing practices and following a few simple steps. While upgrading to a newer operating system is the safer choice, you may decide to accept additional risk and continue running Windows XP.
The Reasons for Keeping Windows XP
The two main reasons why users are still running Windows XP are the high cost of upgrading and the legacy software problem. To upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 you have to buy the license for the new operating system, and either upgrade your hardware or buy a more powerful computer. If you have an old version of a desktop publishing application with lots of custom templates, a contact manager that has no new Windows versions or a customer relationship management suite that is not compatible with later Windows versions, upgrading is a huge investment in time and money and may mean you have to start inputting all the old data from scratch.
The Risks of Not Upgrading
The two major risks for people still running Windows XP are loss of data and unauthorized access to their systems. You can catch viruses or other malware that disables your computer, deletes data or denies you access to your programs. Hackers can exploit weaknesses in the operating system to access your computer and steal sensitive or personal data. These risks are present for all computer systems, but they will increase with time for systems running Windows XP.
Preserving Your System and Data
The main countermeasures allowing you to reduce your risk of losing data are to back up your data and keep the original software sources such as CDs and DVDs for Windows XP and for all programs. If your system becomes infected with malware, you can wipe the hard drive clean or install a new hard drive. Microsoft will continue to operate the Windows validation service for Windows XP. As a result, you can install and validate your copy on your new or re-formated drive, reinstall drivers and applications and restore your data.
Securing Your Computer
In addition to running an up-to-date anti-virus program, you can reduce the risk of a virus infection by operating your computer without administrator privileges. Create a restricted account that does not allow you to install new software and use that for normal work. Only use the administrator account when you have to install or change software. This practice makes it harder for malware to install unwanted software on your system.
Without access to your computer, malware can’t install software on your computer and hackers can’t steal your data. Access comes in three ways. Physical access means someone can switch on your computer and use it. Shared access means you share files via a network or by transferring data through memory sticks or optical disks. Internet access is through email, websites or through downloading. By restricting the way you use your Windows XP computer to eliminate some types of access, you can greatly reduce your risk.
For example, creating strong passwords for all accounts on the computer limits access, but placing your computer in a locked office or cabinet to prevent unauthorized tampering is effective for restricting physical access. Disable sharing your files on a network and only transfer data when you know the source is secure. Some Windows XP computers running legacy software may not need an Internet connection and can reduce risk by remaining isolated. If you do need the Internet, limit your downloading to known files.
After Windows XP The risk of using Windows XP will increase with time and eventually you won’t be able to get printers or other accessories that support it. While you may be able to postpone the switch for years, planning for the switch now can save you money and let you continue to run legacy software. Windows 7 is still available and is offered widely on business computers. This version of Windows has an “XP” mode that lets it run older software. Keeping an eye open for deals on Windows 7 computers may allow you to upgrade at low cost and at a time of your choosing. Running Windows XP and Windows 7 computers in parallel for some time is a safe way to make the transition.