In April 2014, Microsoft will end Windows XP support. No more support means no more updates. No more updates means vulnerabilities discovered after April will no longer be addressed by way of security patches, bug fixes and online or phone tech support. Without those critical updates, millions of XP systems will be exposed to malware and viruses that put both systems and private data at risk for exploitation. Some private groups may take up the cause, but without official support, the outlook is pretty grim.
XP Usage By The Numbers
Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001. Considering the fast pace at which new operating systems are released and adopted by both personal and business users, it stands to reason that ending XP support wouldn’t affect too many businesses. However, statistics show that’s not necessarily the case.
At the height of its popularity, over 800 million people and more than 50 million businesses used Windows XP. Today it’s estimated that over 500 million people still use Windows XP on a daily basis. That’s still nearly 40% of all computers with an active OS. This gives hackers 500 million reasons to turn their attention to XP starting in April. The numbers are staggering. Even if XP usage drops to 10%, approximately 100 million users are still at risk. We imagine they’ll find the OS difficult, if not downright impossible, to resist hacking based on the lack of support. Businesses who don’t have an IT management company or plan in place by then will suffer.
Why This OS Persists
With Windows Vista, 7 and 8 versions all being released since XP, the big questions is always “why are there still so many people using XP?” Well, XP was user friendly as well as designed for commercial use. It offered features required by professional users and made them as easy to use and navigate as they were at home. This made XP just as valuable for business as it was for personal use, and users appreciated not having to learn two different operating systems. Though Microsoft is on Windows 8.1, the rest of the world is still a version or two behind. Windows 7 just kicked XP out of the top spot in 2013. Windows 7 was released back in 2009 by the way.
XP’s popularity was somewhat cemented when its successor (Vista) was introduced and suffered through a disastrous launch. Vista’s debut was overshadowed by compatibility problems and a long string of updates. Many XP users, preferring to skip such headaches, never bothered to upgrade. Instead they continue on with XP and opt for installing intermittent updates along the way.
The Impact on Businesses Still Using Windows XP
Corporate firewalls and anti-virus software (which also require constant updating) are not sufficient to protect XP users once the critical patch support ends. Firewalls and software are reactive to known threats and previously executed hacks. They cannot and do not protect against malware and viruses that don’t exist yet. These unknown threats are known as “zero-day.” After XP support ends, it’s only a matter of time before hackers find an XP “zero-day” and compromise user security. Interestingly, Microsoft recently published the video below to talk about how it’s helping to fight cyber crime:
The greatest thing they could do to fight cyber crime and help millions is to extend support of their premiere OS, but that would probably hinder profits (and that’s a topic to tackle separately).
Businesses still relying on XP need to start considering their non-XP options sooner rather than later. And there are plenty of them. Of course, upgrading to Windows 7 or 8 (8 is viable if your workforce primarily uses mobile or tablet devices) makes the most sense. Switching to an Apple iOS is another. For those comfortable with cloud computing, Chrome OS can handle everything from the browser. Linux software is pretty similar to Windows Office and Outlook as well.
For corporate enterprises, replacing hundreds or thousands of XP-running machines to Macs or retraining hundreds or thousands on a new system is daunting. Not to mention the time, cost and customized in-house software reliant on XP requires. However, the cost of a malicious hack must be weighed against the cost of not upgrading. A breach can be catastrophic for businesses, whereas the upgrade is just mildly painful.
No upgrade is easy for business when the time and cost of doing so is factored into the process. But the cost of doing nothing is far more substantial. Regardless of what your business decides do, that decision should be made soon so that the time to implement doesn’t lag the XP support cut-off date in April. If you’re business doesn’t have a solid IT consultant in place, or needs help with this critical decision, please contact us today!