One risk is that attackers will have the advantage over defenders who choose to run Windows XP because attackers will likely have more information about vulnerabilities in Windows XP than defenders. The problem is, of course, that once patches stop being provided for newly-discovered vulnerabilities, any problems that are found for more recent versions may well be backwards-compatible with XP. As details of these issues will be widely publicised, for very good reasons, there’s bound to be plenty of research going on into which ones can be used to penetrate the systems of anyone still clinging on to XP. Indeed, some people have already speculated that the bad guys will soon be stockpiling newly-found bugs until after the patch deadline, building up an arsenal of woes to unleash on those too lazy, poor, or stuck in their ways to upgrade.
Once the April 2014 deadline has passed, the world of Windows XP will be a perpetual zero-day, with no hope of relief from danger. It’s clearly in Microsoft’s interest to spread maximum fear, to squeeze as much revenue as they can out of Windows users who will have to pay to step up to Windows 7 or 8. But their warnings do carry considerable weight. In operating system terms, XP is pretty ancient, having been released in 2001 and reaching the end of its standard back in 2009. When the five-year extended support phase ends the platform will have very nearly reached its teens. It remains remarkably popular though, with the best available stats putting it on anywhere from 13 to 30% of systems browsing the web – well overtaken by Windows 7 nowadays, but still streets ahead of Windows 8. Its stability, simplicity and familiarity will make it hard to dislodge from a huge residual user base.
This has led to some speculation that Microsoft might relent and extend the support period further, but this seems unlikely. As Rains also points out in his blog piece, even with regular patching, the security provisions in XP just don’t cut it any more, leaving its users open to all sorts of dangers they would be immune from out-of-the-box with less creaky platforms.
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