At least every month, Microsoft creates and releases security ‘patches’ to exploits it finds in it’s various operating systems and applications. April 8, 2014 is the last time Microsoft will release these for Windows XP. If you’re one of the millions of people that are screaming that they’ll have to pry your Windows XP PC “from your cold, dead hands” (ok, I’m probably exaggerating here, but there are many XP die-hards out there), there ARE some steps to take that can keep your computer relatively safe in the post-support era. Will there be any serious exploits found after 4/8/14 (security holes that let the bad guys take over your computer maybe)? Who knows? Since Microsoft will not release any further security patches, though, you are taking a risk by still using XP for normal computing after this date. So you would be well advised to limit your Internet activity and take extra precautions if you are going to keep that XP computer around.
First off, two points to remember:
1 – Windows XP computers will NOT stop working after April 8, 2014. Microsoft even specifically said that they will still allow the activation process to go through after that date.
2 – If you are using a Windows XP computer for a purpose that is NOT connected to the Internet (a computer in an auto mechanic shop running an alignment machine, for example), you have nothing to worry about. You can stop reading now. Go ahead and run your prorams as long as you don’t plug in to the network and start surfing and checking your email.
If your Windows XP computer IS connected to your network/Internet connection, here are some important things you should do (or stop doing) to stay relatively protected (if you are not ok with being just ‘relatively’ protected, please proceed to buying a new computer):
1 – If you’re still using the Interet Explorer browser, STOP using it. There are and have been safer browers and after April 8, it will get even worse. Google Chrome is my favorite. Mozilla FireFox is another good, safer browser.
2 – Your computer should be connected to the Internet behind a router. It should NOT be connected directly to your cable/DSL modem (unless yours is a router also, which many new ones are). Your router serves as a hardware firewall and if there is a security hole discovered in the XP software firewall, this will give you a good layer of protection. If you are still using a dial-up Internet connection, well, there’s probaby no hope for you anyway, so lots of luck to you, you’ll need it.
3 – It’s even more important now to have a good, updated Antivirus program. This may not stop many problems from getting into your computer, but may alert you to them and/or remove them after the fact.
4 – Consider disabling or uninstalling browser plug-ins like Java and Flash. These are the extremely exploit-prone. You may not be able to use Java-enabled websites (unless you temporarily re-enable them), but you’re adding a significant amount of safety with this one.
5 – Use a ‘limited’ user account with Windows. By default, a Windows user is an ‘administrator’, but using a limited user account may limit the damage a malicious piece of software can do to your computer.
You may also want to read my previous article:
What to do with your Windows XP machine once you buy a new one