Pay Your Respects: What End of Support for Windows XP Means for You

In April, Microsoft ended technical support for Windows XP which was the standby for businesses and individuals all over the world for more than a decade. Many people don’t know what this means, or how it affects them. This change in Microsoft’s policy means that computers running Windows XP will no longer receive the regular security updates which patch holes that criminals exploit to gain access to your computer. Those still using Windows XP will face heightened risk for cyber crime including data theft and spreading malware. In other words, it could slow your computer to a crawl and expose you to an unacceptably high risk of data loss liability.

Most digital security experts strongly urge Windows XP users to upgrade their computer to Windows 7 or higher, or to buy a new computer altogether. If your district hasn’t addressed this yet, now is the time to review your budget and consult your Information Technology (IT) personnel in order to decide the best course of action. Remember, operating computers with Windows XP will leave your district exposed to significant risk. Windows XP was subject to over 100 security patches per year, which demonstrates how rapidly exploitable weaknesses will begin to accumulate.

In the Meantime

If your district is waiting for funds, or is in the process of upgrading, here are ten things you can do to mitigate your risk ahead of a transition. Consult your IT personnel to help put these into place.

  1. If possible, disconnect any machine using Windows XP from the internet entirely. Or, try to minimize the extent at which these computers have access to the web
  2. When a computer is not in use, turn it off
  3. Reduce or eliminate the use of non-essential applications such as games and media players; especially if these programs rely on access to the internet
  4. Discontinue all recreational or personal web-browsing, including email, social media, and downloading media (photos, videos, music) of any kind
  5. Remove administrative rights for all users where possible
  6. Install updates for other software as often as possible, such as Firefox, Chrome, Acrobat, Java, Flash, and Quicktime
  7. Avoid using CD or DVD-ROM’s and writers, and do not use USB thumb drives—this will reduce malware spread from an infected XP machine
  8. Microsoft is still sending absolutely critical patches for Windows XP, so while you should not turn off automatic updates, it is crucial you not assume you are protected by them
  9. As a general rule, don’t install anything new unless you are directed to by an IT professional
  10. Do not use XP computers to access critical or sensitive information such as banking information, payroll, patient or personnel information, especially over networks or the internet
  11. Be alert, critical, and careful with anything you click or access; your mother is almost certainly not in Nigeria with a mountain of cash

For more information, please consult the Microsoft website at: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/end-support-help. Remember, this only applies to computers running Windows XP, so it does not include tablets, Macintosh computers, or any machine running Windows Vista, 7 or 8.

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