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Will Windows XP become new playground for cybercriminals?

Dubai: Windows XP’s and Office 2003’s sunny days are going to be over on April 8, 2014, as Microsoft is retiring all its support and vital security patches to critical vulnerabilities for the hugely popular operating system.

Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001 and it normally supports an operating system for 10 years — five years of full support plus five years of extended support. For XP, Microsoft extended it for two more years because of its popularity. Updates for Microsoft Security Essentials, however, will be available until July 2015.

Despite the risks, XP remains the second most popular OS in terms of internet usage across the globe.

It still supports Vista and will provide extended support for Windows 7 through 2020.

“Windows XP was designed for 90s computers and it is not the best to run today’s computers. It is not safe to run today’s computers with XP,” Cyril Voisin, Regional Technology Officer at Microsoft, told Gulf News.

After 8th, the software will become vulnerable to newly discovered attacks and will no longer be a safe place to work or play.

“Windows XP users are more susceptible to cybercriminal activity and running antivirus on an out of support system is not an adequate solution to protect against threats,” Voisin said.

According to reports, about 95 per cent of the automated teller machines and about 60 per cent of the Point of sale (POS) systems are still running on XP globally.

“If you’re still running XP, chances are that your computer is at least a decade old,” Voisin said.

The malware infection rate for unsupported Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was 66 per cent higher than the supported version of Windows XP SP3.

Many corporates and financial institutions have urged Microsoft to extend the deadline, but Voisin said that Microsoft is in no way going to extend the deadline for XP, except for specific big corporates who are in transition to Windows 8 through custom support agreement.

The risk associated with running XP will increase after the 8th. The present hardware and CPUs will not support XP and it will be “more expensive for companies” to run the old operating system.

Windows XP users are six times more likely to be infected by viruses than those on Windows 8. From a security perspective, he said that newer software is better.

“Most of the hackers attack people if they find no vulnerability by themselves. They find the vulnerabilities by looking at the security updates that Microsoft publishes. They look at the new version Microsoft published and look at the vulnerabilities and compare the difference between the two. By comparing the versions, they can identify where the issue was and can build an attack,” he said.

Microsoft is offering incentives for customers to move to Windows 8.1 and Office 365 and tools for transferring files.

XP users cannot upgrade directly to Windows 8.1, they need to first upgrade to Windows 8 and the get a free upgrade to 8.1. Not all the machines will be able to run Windows 8, only some with certain specs. Users can download the Windows 8 Upgrade assistant to see if their computer meets the requirements.

Windows 8.1 full version is for Windows 7 users only and the Windows 8.1 upgrade DVD costs $120.

Windows 8 was not well accepted by the users due to its tiles style, which was a totally new experience for users. It was designed for touch screens without the Start menu button but Microsoft has improved its features in Windows 8.1 for mouse and keyboard users.

Voisin said the forthcoming update will improve further for people who are used to XP style of work with even more mouse-friendly enhancements.

He said that people should move to Windows 8.1 as it offers increased and ongoing protections.