April 8 has the makings of a hacker’s heyday.
On Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. is ending support for the Windows XP operating system after 12 years of service.
Without technical support or protective security patches, roughly 30 percent of PC users that use the operating system—including ATMs—will be subject to viruses or cyberattacks, local information technology officials say.
“That doesn’t mean that April 9 PCs aren’t going to work, but when vulnerabilities occur—and they will—it’s going to be such a large target for hackers, (who are) going to try to expose vulnerabilities in those systems,” said David D’Agostino, vice president of operations at Brite Computers. “There’s obviously a security risk that will increase over time with those devices.”
Microsoft says its motive for discontinuing support is the desire to have clients move to a newer operating system.
“Customers moving to a modern operating system will benefit from dramatically enhanced security, broad device choice for a mobile workforce, higher user productivity and a lower total cost of ownership through improved management capabilities,” the software giant asserts on its website.
Windows XP debuted in the fall of 2001. It was followed by Windows Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009 and Windows 8 in 2012.
“Microsoft can’t justify supporting three different desktop operating systems” in XP, 7 and 8, said Trevor Smith, operations manager at Brite Computers. “When Microsoft cuts off security support for XP, thousands of devices will be vulnerable to advanced security attacks.”
Without security patches, which usually are updated weekly, businesses of any size that have not prepared for the change have a lot at stake, experts say.
“The bigger concern is the risk of an infection, a virus, something happening to the system gets higher and higher,” said Cheryl Nelan, president of CMIT Solutions of Monroe.
For some businesses with 3- to 4-year old PCs, upgrading could mean purchasing new computers instead of new software.
“The costs of the PCs have come down dramatically,” D’Agostino said. “If you look at the total cost of ownership to support and maintain a Windows XP system today, (it’s) costing users approximately $400 to $500 a year in support and in just employee costs.”
“Small businesses think they can’t afford to upgrade this, but they’re really costing themselves more money by not upgrading because they’re not getting productivity out of their employees.”
The life span of an operating system is roughly eight years, though the popularity of XP in comparison with other Windows operating systems may have stretched its longevity, experts say.
“I think what happened was XP was a very good and solid operating system and then there was a hiccup with Windows Millennium, which was a very short-lived operating system that came out around ’99,” D’Agostino said. “Then Windows Vista came out and had so many different issues and a ton of bad press around it that organizations were apprehensive to go to Windows 7.
“They really became comfortable with Windows XP. So this particular life cycle is much longer than they have been in the past.”
To prepare for the impending deadline, businesses should upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 to keep their assets protected, local experts say.
“The next steps would be to contact a solution provider that can assist with application testing, building a process, upgrading the devices, writing documentation and delivering training,” Smith said. “Upgrading may seem to the average user like a simple one- or two-click process, but there are several factors to take into consideration.”
Ultimately, the new system will not only secure data but will offer customers a better experience, Nelan said.
“I would advise them (businesses) to take the leap now and work with a trusted IT partner that can help them make sure they make the right choice,” she said. “In a business world you’re relying on those computers running, so get an expert to help you. But then you’re getting a better operating system that’s going to better support your business, so it’s an investment that’s helping you as well.”
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End for Windows XP marks beginning of new threats