Wednesday, Apr 02 2014 06:00 AM

Tech Wire: The pitfalls of staying with Windows XP

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Matthew Sgherzi

Last month, I wrote about the upcoming April 8 date which marks the "end-of-life" support date for Windows XP. After April 8, Microsoft will no longer issue security updates for any computer running Windows XP.

No other article had generated as much interest as when I wrote about the upcoming end of support date for Windows XP. Ever since that article, I received a number of questions, such as "Why does it matter if Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP?" or "Isn't that what my anti-virus is for?"

There are a number of clarifications that should be made regarding the pitfalls that exist, which will assist in understanding why the April 8 date is such an important issue with Windows XP computers and the tech industry as a whole.

Why does it matter?

The main reason you do not want to be using a computer running Windows XP after April 8 is because of the end of support in terms of the security updates. Hackers are often attempting to discover and utilize security holes and flaws that exist within Operating Systems (eg. Windows XP, Windows 7, etc.).

Microsoft has security experts who monitor the security flaws that hackers discover, which they then issue a security update to patch before it becomes a serious problem. This is a game of cat-and-mouse, and it happens on a 24-7, 365 day basis. After April 8, Microsoft will not come along and patch these huge security holes that hackers will inevitably continue to discover.

What about my security software?

The question about using your security software to protect you comes from not distinguishing these two threats. Microsoft issues updates to fix security flaws that hackers find within the Windows XP operating system itself, while your anti-virus and firewall software simply scans individual files and blocks them if necessary. One is patching a security hole in the system; the other is scanning individual files for viruses. Neither one protects you against the opposite threat, as they are both needed to remain safe and secure on your computer.

According to a study done by Bloomberg Business' technology sector, an estimated 95 percent of ATM machines at all national banks across the United States are currently running Windows XP. After the April 8 date, all of these ATM machines, if they are not upgraded, could instantly become under control of hackers who would, evidently, have full control over how it operates including automatically withdrawing all available cash. This poses a serious security threat to American banks, including each of our individual accounts, as well.

Aravinda Korala, chief executive officer of ATM software provider KAL, says he expects only 15 percent of bank ATMs in the U.S. to be on Windows 7 by the April deadline. Since this is such a security threat to our national banking system, it shows not only the popularity of Windows XP, but also the pitfalls and vulnerabilities to less secure, less guarded residential and small business computers.

MATTHEW SGHERZI lives in Tehachapi where he has operated an IT business since 2007 (tehachapicomputers.com).

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