As almost any regular computer user will know, Support for Microsoft Windows XP will end on April 8th 2014, and many are predicting a wave of new XP targeted exploits to hit the streets shortly after that date.
There is a lot of hype in the press and tech media about this, with the range of reaction from ‘its the end of the world if you still run XP’ down to ‘No problem. carry on as you are’. We sit somewhere in the middle of this debate and whilst we feel that any one still running Windows XP really needs to make a serious attempt to upgrade their software (and hardware if necessary) to a more modern and secure operating system, we can also appreciate that there are people out there who for a multitude of reason just cannot move on the Windows 7 or Windows 8.
For those people though, it’s not the end of the world, you can still use XP after April 8th 2014, so long as you take some reasonable and sensible precautions and to help you stay safe we have devised a twelve point action plan that will keep you a little safer.
- Install all Windows Updates – April the 8th will be Microsoft’s last regular ‘Patch Tuesday’ update for XP, make sure that you have installed all service packs, updates, hot fixes etc by then, then on the 8th / 9th April make sure you manually visit the Windows Update site and get get the final set of XP updates.
- Update / Replace Office 2003 – If you are using XP you may well still be using Office 2003, it’s not been so widely publicised that support for Office 2003 also ceases on that date, so as with XP, make sure you have it updated and patched at the same time. Better still, consider upgrading to and alternative package such Office 2007, Office 2010 or even an open source alternative such as Libra Office.
- Uninstall / Update Java – Unless you know that you really need to have Java installed on your system to help run another program then uninstall it, unfortunately Java has been besieged by a host of security problems over the years, and remains a popular attack vector for many malware infections. If you really do need it, make sure it’s updated, and ensure that you don’t have the Java plug in for your browser enabled.
- Don’t run as Administrator – By default all XP user accounts are set as Administrator accounts, this is a bad idea (Click here for full details) create another account and set it to Administrator rights, then change your current account to a limited user account.
- Install a good third part security package – All the major security companies will support XP for their products for a while yet, so make sure you have one. In our opinion paid products are better supported, have better detection rates and more frequent updates, so go for one of this if you can, Otherwise the free alternatives are better than nothing at all.
- Wi-Fi hotspots – If you use a laptop don’t connect to untrusted public Wi-Fi hotspots, anyone else on the hotspot may be able to see what you’re doing, or gain access to your computer, and you must definitely turn off ALL file and printer sharing options when you are using a public hotspot.
- Disable all unnecessary browser plug ins – whilst these little programs may be useful occasionally, remove any that you really don’t need, rogue plug-ins could be used to compromise your system.
- Install an alternative browser – browser based attacks are becoming more common, and as Microsoft won’t be updating IE8 anymore it will fall behind in both security and features. Installing and using an alternative such as Firefox or Chrome will add an extra layer of security.
- Make plans to upgrade to something newer – you may have reasons at the moment not to upgrade, but you really should start planing a migration to Windows 7, Windows 8, or even an alternative operating such as Linux, as these are now all so much more secure than Windows XP.
- Remove old software – Check through your list of installed programs and un-install any old programs that you don’t need, old software with known security holes can be used to compromise the security of your system.
- Stay behind a NAT Router – Make sure that your routers NAT Routing option is turned on to help protect you from un-solicited internet data packets, this will keep out any people that are trying to get through to your PC, also make sure that all open ports are closed, and that you are operating in Stealth Mode, the popular Shields Up! page at www.grc.com will scan your set-up and alert you to any potential hazards.
- Stay Alert – Probably the best advice is to keep your wits about you and stay alert to anything that looks suspicious, and always err on the side of caution.
The absolute beat advice we have is to ditch Windows XP as soon as you possibly can, but until then then above advice will help to keep you safe.