With just days to go, just how many PCs are still running Windows XP?

Next Tuesday, April 8 2014, Microsoft will release the last ever security patches for Windows XP.

And if you look at the figures from Net Market Share, things aren’t looking too good.

Net Market Share keeps a tally on worldwide operating system and browser usage by measuing the hits on websites and – according to them – Windows XP is still powering some 27.69% of worldwide PCs.

Worldwide operating system marketshare

That’s an alarming statistic. But is it true?

Well, as we have all learnt through life, statistics can be deceptive.

The truth is that in much of the world, the usage of Windows XP is probably not anywhere near 27.69%. It’s commonly believed that the figures have been skewed massively by China where – according to some reports – Windows XP still had a marketshare of approximately 50% at the end of 2013.

A large part of the problem in China, no doubt, is the widespread usage of pirated versions of the operating system dubbed “GhostXP” locally.

Chinese pirated copy of Windows XP

The stat appears to be backed up by Microsoft’s figures for usage of the no-longer-trusted Internet Explorer 6, the default browser in Windows XP.

Microsoft’s IE 6 Countdown website gives percentages for Internet Explorer 6 usage around the world.

IE6 around the world

And, surprise surprise, there’s only one country which sticks out like a sore thumb: China.

Close-up of chart, focusing on China

Regardless of what the figure for Windows XP usage is in your country, chances are that even if a small percentage of your internet-using population is using the old OS, it could still amount to a considerable number of computers.

And that’s a problem.

Because, if those computers continue to run Windows XP, and don’t receive any more security patches they are not just putting themselves and the data they carry at risk, they are endangering all of us who use the internet.

How so? Well, every computer that is compromised or hijacked by hackers can be used as a launchpad for further attacks – whether they be denial-of-service attacks, spammed out phishing campaigns, or deliberate dissemination of malware.

And if it happens that you are unlucky enough to have your personal information stored on a computer at a business still running Windows XP (and sadly, many businesses are still running legacy computers running creaky old versions of the Windows operating system) then it could be your private sensitive data that is up for grabs.

The worry is that malicious hackers will reverse-engineer future security patches from Microsoft (designed to enhance the security of more recent versions of Windows), but the flaws that they are designed to fix will also be present in the newly-retired XP operating system.

Windows XPIn short, hackers will be interested in targeting the now poorly-protected Windows XP platform with even greater vigour.

ESET security veteran and fellow WeLiveSecurity scribe Aryeh Goretsky has written some wise words, offering practical tips for people who have decided they need a little extra time and plan to stay protecting Windows XP computers for a little while longer.

Aryeh has also documented what to do if you think you are ready to bite the bullet and move on.

And, by the way, if you’re not sure if you are running Windows XP or not, here is a helpful webpage created by Microsoft: http://amirunningxp.com

Author Graham Cluley, We Live Security

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