XP Migration: Security is Job 1

Contributing Writer

When Microsoft abandons ship on Windows XP support on April 8, 2014, it will not be patching security holes, which means your Internet-connected computer will be a defenseless piece of hardware that is fair game for malicious software attacks.

While Microsoft has offered anti-malware signature support until July 14, 2015, that is not a commitment to extend security support for XP. Microsoft will continue to provide updates to its XP anti-malware software, including Microsoft Security Essentials, in order to detect some forms of malware. But working on an outdated OS means it will have limited effectiveness, the company concedes.

Bottom line: Any PC running any form of XP – including Windows 7 XP mode– is still at risk. In fact, Microsoft recommends using Windows XP mode after April 8th only if the computer is disconnected from the Internet. That doesn’t seem very productive.

So, it’s time to take control before you are sailing the Microsoft-abandoned, virus-infested sinking ship.

Of course, the recommendation is to move to Windows 7 or 8.1. Many consumers and companies that adopted XP several years ago are still also using older PCs, which introduces another set of problems since very few older computers are able to run the new OS, especially the hybrid touchscreen Windows 8. In addition, there are many older applications that are incompatible with the new operating systems. Microsoft surely didn’t think about your budget concerns when planning their OS migration strategy. So, if you are one of the millions of XP enterprise users that have not yet migrated off XP because you’re running custom, mission-critical apps that can’t be moved right away, or because of other budget constraints, you’ll have to find a way to protect yourself after April 8th.

Here’s how:

Don’t move to Windows 7 XP mode thinking it will solve the problem. It won’t.

Ditch Internet Explorer (which is part of the XP OS) and move to third-party browsers, like Google Chrome, which announced it is extending support for Chrome on Windows XP, and will continue to provide regular updates and security patches until at least April 2015, or the latest version of Mozilla Firefox, which the company said requires Windows XP Service Pack 3. (Of course, while the browsers will be secure, the underlying OS is not.)

Same goes for Outlook 2003 – It’s reached the end of its XP lifecycle. Move to a third-party email client.

Do backup your files. (And, if you are so bold: Erase your hard drive and replace it with a free OS, like Linux.)

Install third-party security software. The Independent IT –Security Institute has a list of vendors offering anti-malware for XP after Microsoft ends support.

If you are in a large enterprise, consider purchasing a customized security service from Microsoft. (But be prepared to pay hefty fees.)

Good luck!