As you may have read in my post earlier this week about the end of days for Windows XP, Microsoft will cease providing security updates for this operating system on April 8, 2014. If you cannot get away from Windows XP just yet, there are still a few things you can do to defend your XP machines:
- The first thing is to make sure that you back up your computer’s files regularly, and periodically test you’re your backup strategy by restoring backups, preferably on a different computer, a few times a year. This helps ensure that in the event of a catastrophe, you will still have access to the information on your computer. The time to worry about your backups is not when faced with a virus, fire, earthquake or other calamity.
- The next thing to do is to make sure that your copy of Windows XP is up-to-date. Although Microsoft will stop making new updates for Windows XP after April 8, 2014, all of the old updates from before then will still be available, and should be applied. This also applies to the device driver software (a device driver is a computer program that allows the operating system to communicate with a particular kind of hardware), which may be available from your computer manufacturer or Microsoft’s Windows Update web site.
- In addition to the operating system and drivers, you should also make sure you have the latest versions of your application software on the computer, and that those are fully-patched and updated. Programs like Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader and Oracle Corp.’s Java are frequently targeted by the criminal gangs that develop and use malware, so keeping these up-to-date is just as important as looking after the operating system. Other software that you use, such as Microsoft Office, web browsers and so forth, should be on the latest version and have the latest patches applied as well.
- If the computer does not have to be connected to the Internet, disconnect or disable the connection so that the PC can only connect to other machines on the same non-Internet network. This will ensure that Internet-borne threats cannot directly attack your XP PC, and will make it harder for an attacker to steal data off the computer.
- Make sure your security software is up-to-date, as well. There are lots of security programs available for Windows XP, and most of their authors have committed to supporting Windows XP for years to come. Some are free, while others are sold as a subscription. A discussion of the features needed to protect Windows XP is outside the scope of this article, but at the very least, I would recommend looking for a security program that combines signature-based and heuristic detection, includes a firewall, and has some kind of host intrusion protection system. Vulnerability shielding and exploit blocking will be useful as well, as Windows XP will no longer be updated by Microsoft to protect against these types of attacks.
While these tips will help, your main goal should figuring out how to move away from Windows XP. If it is simply a matter of replacing a critical application, work out the cost and build that into your operating budget, likewise for computer upgrades or even replacement computers. That may be a capital expense, and an unwanted one in this economy, however, it is still better than going out of business because outdated computers failed or critical data was stolen.
Having to replace working computers every few years is not fun, but, like other mechanical equipment, computers do wear out and need to be replaced. Software, too, gets updated periodically, not just with security patches, but new features and functionality as well, that can improve your bottom line. You might find my podcast on security for older systems to be helpful listening material.
For readers who are using ESET for their anti-malware protection there is a helpful Knowledgebase article "Microsoft Windows XP end of support and ESET products." ESET is committed to supporting the Microsoft Windows XP operating system for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of ESET products at least until the end of April, 2017.