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Many in the enterprise IT community have been hearing the drumbeat of news and warnings about Microsoft ending all support for XP on April 8, 2014. As with updates on many future events, many IT specialists have probably filed this away in the back of their minds as something to take note.

From everything I’ve read on the subject, however, this is one warning that it would be a mistake to ignore. If you’re enterprise is still using XP, it would be wise to develop a migration plan that moves your employees and enterprise applications to Windows 7 or Windows 8 - and pronto.

When Microsoft says it will no longer be supporting XP, it means that there will be no further updates, including any security updates, ‘patch Tuesdays’ etc. Once the last Windows XP patch goes out sometime next April, unpatched vulnerabilities will rapidly emerge. And once they do, hackers and cyber crooks will have a field day.

Just to take one example, if you are running Windows XP and use Internet Explorer (IE), you are at least three versions behind the most up to date versions of IE, with all of the security risks that entails. To drive home these concerns, Tim Rains, director of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, just posted a blog piece on this subject. Rains writes:

“On April 8 2014, support will end for Windows XP. This means Windows XP users will no longer receive  security updates, non-security hotfixes or free/paid assisted support options and online technical content  updates. After end of support, attackers will have an advantage over defenders who continue to run  Windows XP. After April next year, when we release monthly security updates for supported versions of  Windows, attackers will try and reverse engineer them to identify any vulnerabilities that also exist in  Windows XP. If they succeed, attackers will have the capability to develop exploit code to take advantage of them.”

To back up his point, Rains also emphasizes that even before the phase-out of support for XP, the XP OS is still significantly more at risk then Microsoft’s more recent Operating Systems. As you can see from the graph, the infection rate for Windows XP is nearly twice that of Vista (which no one uses anyway), and more than double that of Windows 7. The obvious takeaway – the security environment for XP is not great now, and it will be terrible after next April 8th.

Of course, there will be cynics who say “Microsoft is just trying to sell upgrades”. To which I would reply that Microsoft has been supporting XP for 12 years, which I suspect is far longer than just about any other software company would do with any of their products. Lest we forget, Microsoft is actually a private-sector company that does look at costs and operating expenses, and after 12 years its’ not unreasonable for them to focus their support resources on their newer operating systems.

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