The End of Windows XP? Part 2

the-end-of-windows-xpThis is the second in a series of articles discussing the “End of Support” for Windows XP. Please read the first article in the series if you haven’t already.

If you have read the first article I wrote about Microsoft ending official support for Windows XP on April 8th, you know that for most people, this won’t result in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moment. Computers aren’t going to stop suddenly working and hackers aren’t going to infiltrate your computer on that date. However, you will need to be a little more vigilant about keeping your Windows XP computer secure going forward. Here are some specific things you should do if you will continue to run Windows XP.

1) Make sure you have solid and current anti-malware (anti-virus) software running. I will go into more detail in another article, but the bottom line is to make sure that you are running some sort of security software that is not more than a year old and that is actually functioning properly. I can’t tell you how many new clients I run into that have anti-malware software that is 4-6 years old and isn’t actually protecting anything. A good option is Microsoft’s Security Essentials, a free anti-malware program from Microsoft. Other than being free, Security Essentials does a good job of protecting Windows from malware, especially when combined with some other options I discuss below. However, while Microsoft will continue to offer updates for Security Essentials on XP until July 15th, 2015, they claim they will not make the software itself available for install after April 8th. So if you would like to take advantage of Microsoft Security Essentials, get it downloaded and installed before April 8th. Otherwise, there are many other good options available. Verifying your anti-malware situation is a good idea for any version of Windows but it is now critical if you will continue to run Windows XP. Let me know if you need help with this, or contact your trusted technology professional.

2) Your computer (and network) should be protected by a good firewall. A firewall prevents malicious online hackers from directly breaking into the computers on our networks. For most of us, our Internet routers offer a simple but solid firewall and that is really all the firewall you need to protect yourself while at home or on your business network. However, laptops that venture into pubic networks should also have a software-based firewall that runs on the computer itself. Windows XP has built-in firewall software that will work just fine. You just need to make sure it is actively running. Firewalls are also usually part of third-party anti-malware programs, which again, you’ll just need to ensure is actually operational. One word of warning: there have been some examples of Internet routers with vulnerabilities that can be exploited to break into your network. Make sure your Internet router is secured by verifying you are running the latest firmware available for your particular device. Again, this is a good idea for any version of Windows, but especially now for Windows XP, so let me or your trusted technology professional know if you need help with any of this.

3) Supplement your computer’s security with a service like OpenDNS. OpenDNS is a free third-party DNS service that replaces the use of your Internet provider’s DNS settings. DNS settings are what defines how your computer “looks up” the address of web sites and servers. OpenDNS runs a system where they actively block the lookup of addresses of known malicious web sites and servers, adding an additional layer of protection for your computer. Because it is free there is no downside to using OpenDNS, so I highly recommend it. In fact, I set up OpenDNS as a matter of course for all my clients, regardless of which operating system they use. Changing DNS settings can be a little bit more technical than most people are comfortable with, so if you need help with this, contact me or your trusted technology pro.

4) Make sure you stop using Internet Explorer 8 as your web browser. Web browsers are an increasingly common point of attack for malicious activity online. It is imperative that your web browser stay updated to protect against security issues. As an integrated part of Windows XP, Microsoft will stop releasing security updates for Internet Explorer 8 on April 8th as well. This particular action is the most serious risk that Microsoft’s end of support for XP will bring. Luckily, it is fairly simple to switch to a different web browser and you probably won’t notice much difference. The reality is that Internet Explorer 8 has long been outdated so it is a good idea to replace Internet Explorer 8 anyway. Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are the two most common third-party browsers and either one makes a fine replacement for Internet Explorer 8. The Opera web browser is also a fairly well-known option. Pick any of these, download, install, and start using it right away before April 8th comes rolling around.

5) Stop ignoring Adobe Flash and Java update notifications. Similar to web browsers, Adobe Flash and Java are increasingly common points of attack for online criminals. It is critical to keep these add-ons updated. While many of us ignore these updates until they’ve annoyed us sufficiently to take action, Windows XP users can no longer afford to ignore them. So when you get these update notifications, take action reasonably quickly. Alternately, if you don’t think you use Java, it can be a good idea to uninstall it. Once again, a trusted technology professional like me can help you work through securing your system, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help now, before you spend twice or three times down the road when your Windows XP computer is in trouble.

In the next article in this series, I will discuss the pros and cons of buying a new computer, plus steps to retain Windows XP compatibility on new computers. Please send me any questions you may have about Windows XP or new computers and I will make sure to answer them as well.