Are You Ready to Upgrade from Windows XP?

By: Terence Howard

Microsoft will discontinue its free support for Windows XP starting on April 8, 2014. Windows XP was first introduced on December 31, 2001 and had been the dominant operating system for about 12 years because of its ease of use. It's been estimated that about a quarter of all computers worldwide are still running this outdated operating system. As Windows XP nears the end of its lifecycle, if you're among that odd 20 to 25 percent it's a good time to start planning for your network's upgrade path to the next version of Windows.

Windows XP lacks many of the security features that have become standard in Windows 7 and Windows 8. This was most spectacularly highlighted in 2009 when Chinese hackers were able to access highly sensitive proprietary data at Google by breaking into an XP machine. This intrusion, dubbed Operation Aurora by security experts, was also able to exploit Windows XP vulnerabilities on 30 other U.S. companies.

Windows XP for Public Access Computers

Due to cost constraints, many administrators of shared computing environments choose to sustain their XP systems. If you choose to do this you should use a third party instant restore application such as Deep Freeze, Reboot Restore Rx or Drive Vaccine? You can find a good comparison of Deep Freeze and Reboot Restore Rx online. In a nutshell, both applications restore computers on every reboot. Reboot Restore Rx is a freeware alternative to Steadystate and is very popular with non-profit institutions.

A more advanced option is to install Drive Vaccine on your public machines. Drive Vaccine is an automated reset utility that returns your network's PCs back to a perfect system state that you, the network administrator, define. Since Drive Vaccine comes with an enterprise-level management utility, it's easy to centrally manage your cyber security policy, patch the machines with the latest Windows and program updates and stay up-to-date. Drive Vaccine is also fully compatible with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and is a great alternative to Deep Freeze. Drive Vaccine also allows you to disable USB flash drives.

Windows XP for Home users or Professional users

Home users need the ability to instantly restore their PCs at any point or when a disaster strikes. They require something that is more comprehensive then Windows System Restore which is built-in to Windows XP. If you are intending to keep your PCs with XP after support for the OS is discontinued, you may want to look at having RollBack Rx as an active instant restore utility. By this you can easily take you PC back to any earlier point in time.

Why You Should Be Planning an Upgrade?

As of this April, Microsoft will no longer be providing security updates and so will become even more vulnerable to hackers, viruses, and security risks. Soon all XP-related automatic fixes, updates, and online technical assistance will no longer be available. As Windows XP approaches its end-of-life an increasing number of third party applications and devices also won't be compatible with this OS. Backward compatibility for XP will become increasingly rare.

The simple act of migrating the network's PCs to a more recent OS is often the most cost-effective way of thwarting cyber attacks. And this usually costs a lot less than other more glamorous advanced cyber security initiatives such as monitoring, anti-malware, third-party firewall, and hacker jamming methods. Often an up-to-date operating system with the latest routine system security patches is best way to defeat cyber attack, virus or other intrusion attacks.

Internet security experts warn that hackers are amassing skeleton to gain remote access to ancient XP machines and having gained access to a network can then move onto other non-XP machines. So even if one computer on your network remains on the Windows XP platform hackers can exploit this network weakness of having an XP access point. Hackers need only look at the new security patches offered for Windows 7 and Windows 8 to realize the vulnerabilities of any unsupported operating system.

Windows 7 is quickly becoming the next go-to Windows upgrade for current XP users. About half of all computers world-wide are already running Windows 7.

So What's the Best Way to Avoid Intrusion Attempts?

If you're unable to upgrade to a newer OS advise that XP machines not be connected to the Internet or to the rest of your network. Programs on such machines also shouldn't need any updates or network-related patching. Flash drives, another major source of infections, should also be disabled on these XP machines.

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Technology is fun. It makes me happy. I dont like incremental changes. I like completely new ideas and big improvements. But I do make certain exceptions.

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