There haven’t been any more Windows XP updates for over a month now, and I wanted to test my own advice on how to survive using XP without falling prey to unstoppable malware.
For Windows XP users, April 8 2014 was the end of the world. The XPocalypse, as some of us have called it, implied the end of all security updates for XP. Those who didn’t update to Windows 8, Microsoft said, would become increasingly vulnerable to viruses and hackers.
Since not everyone has been able to migrate to Windows 8– you have to pay– I published some safety tips for those who had no choice but to stay on XP for a while. Most are common sense: don’t use Internet Explorer, update all programs regularly, and install a compatible antivirus.
I got a little excited when I saw Windows XP’s legendary boot screen.
I wanted to check if my advice was legit using a laptop with Windows XP. The conditions were simple: I would use Firefox as a browser, AVG as an antivirus, and would try not to do anything stupid. After installing all available patches and applications, I started to use the PC for an hour a day, on average.
An uneventful month
My initial feeling was that everything was fine. Using XP with a clean install is a pleasant experience. Everything is fast and stable. Firefox is fast, and the WiFi is set without much trouble. The free version of AVG is barely annoying, although I should mentioned that I spent a considerable amount of time setting up the alerts and background scans.
The days went by without anything too eventful happening. After one week, it was so quiet that to keep things interesting, I decided to open some suspicious attachments, only to discover that Gmail had already filtered all dangerous content (the attached files were clean –a very clumsy phishing attempt).
I also went on file download platforms (Torrent and eMule) to share some legal files. No hacker intruded in my private network, which is protected by a simple router with integrated firewall. I didn’t notice anything unusual, and although my computer could be identified as a PC with Windows XP, no one tried to attack it.
In short: nothing happened.
All good, but with caution
I know why no virus or malware infected my PC: I was careful and didn’t do anything stupid. I was also using safe and updated programs. When after the three weeks of using XP I heard that there was a security flaw in Internet Explorer, which Microsoft quickly solved, I simply shrugged: I was already using Firefox.
If I had browsed web pages with a bad reputation or installed pirated software, my PC could have easily become infected, but the fact is that the same thing could have happened if I had been using Windows 8. These vulnerabilities are difficult to avoid because they take advantage of the user’s trust, not of obsolete operating systems.
Security expert Mikko Hypponen, founder of F-Secure, joked that the most secure operating system is Windows 3.1 because no one makes viruses for it anymore. This made me smile, because it’s true, but it’s not what I would recommend to my friends. My advice is to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8, depending on your preferences, but if you can't right away, at least you now know that staying with XP won't be a tragedy.
If you insist on still using XP, follow my tips on How to use XP without Microsoft's support.