The Dangers of Keeping Windows XP
Windows XP is a ticking time bomb for businesses. / Credit: Cybersecurity image via Shutterstock

It's the final countdown for Windows XP. On Tuesday, April 8, Microsoft's longest-running operating system will reach its end of life. This means the final security patch will be issued and support will end, leaving businesses that choose not to upgrade for a slew of security threats.

An infographic released by Novell, an infrastructure software provider, highlighted that once Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows XP, cybercriminals won't be wasting any time. Hackers will likely pounce on Windows XP after 10 minutes, the infographic revealed.

Despite the security risks associated with keeping Windows XP, there are still companies that will continue to use it. This may be because they cannot afford the upgrade or management isn't ready to deal with the hassle yet, the infographic revealed. Other reasons include Windows XP suiting the needs of the company's apps or that the company's hardware cannot run on new operating systems. [Microsoft to End Support for Windows XP: What Businesses Need to Know]

But is not upgrading to Windows 7 or 8.1 worth its many risks? To help you decide, here are the three primary dangers of keeping Windows XP past its end of life.

The root of all Windows XP problems is that machines will no longer be protected from viruses, worms and other malicious elements.

As such, computers running on Windows XP will become more susceptible to security attacks, said Robert Kurahashi, business development executive at CDI Corp., an engineering and technology solutions company.

"Malware attackers will look to exploit XP," Kurahashi said. "Small businesses will be more vulnerable to this because they typically do not have the level of IT security as a larger entity."

Furthermore, machines running on Windows XP will also become increasingly vulnerable over time — and there will be no one to issue any fixes.

"New vulnerabilities are likely to be discovered," said Jason Blackett, product line manager at Novell. "The malicious community is likely to aggressively research and pursue finding new exploits on XP because this will give them new ways in for exploits, botnets, etc."

Do you or any members of your team travel or take their work home with them? By keeping Windows XP on laptops that go in and out of the office, these devices could put the rest of your network at risk, too.

"If you have laptops with Windows XP — and people take them home — keep them off your network," said Sergio Galindo, general manager of the infrastructure business unit at GFI Software, an IT and security solutions provider.

Although the mobility of laptops allows workers to be productive wherever they go, security at home and in public places is much weaker compared to that of the office, he said. As Windows XP devices remain vulnerable, whatever infects that device outside the office could easily spread to other computers once they are plugged back into the network.

"Windows XP is the gift to hackers that keeps on giving," Galindo said. "Exposing unpatched, unprotected XP computers to the 'wild' and then bringing them into the office [is] just inviting trouble."

[For a side-by-side comparison of the best antivirus software, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.]

When Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, so does everyone else. Finding IT resources to help resolve issues will be difficult for those who have yet to upgrade their devices.

"When there is a large-scale attack on XP and if you are unlucky enough to be impacted by a security issue, be prepared to wait for [an] IT resource," Galindo said.

Instead, businesses with their own IT teams should already have a recovery plan in place — they should backup, backup again and copy the backup to the cloud, Galindo said. Those who outsource IT needs should ask providers about service level agreements, he added.

"You don’t want to be the company on hold for several hours trying to reach someone to come help you," he said. "Infected XP machines will take time to fix and recover. Those costs mount as the number of unpatched and impacted computers grow."

These are short-term fixes, however. In the long run, businesses will have no recourse at all for Windows XP support from IT administrators or third-party vendors.

"Computers are under continuous change and those changes do cause issues," Galindo said. "With Windows XP no longer being supported, you run the risk of [having] the 'I'm sorry, XP is no longer supported' conversation." 

Contrary to what many businesses think, the choice isn't whether to upgrade systems from Windows XP, but whether it should be done sooner rather than later.

"It’s not a matter of if it will fail, it will be when," said Paul Martini, CEO of iboss Network Security.

For one, Windows XP is inherently unsecure. Not only are there many documented Windows XP breaches, but security issues are the reason why Microsoft is retiring Windows XP, he said.  

Moreover, because Windows 7 and 8 are modern operating systems built on the XP blueprint, future updates issued to these operating systems will signal where XP's weak spots are to hackers, he added.

"When the maker of the software is telling you to upgrade and is warning of risks, that speaks for itself," he said.

Originally published on Business News Daily.