Good news for identity thieves, malware/virus writers and other dishonest hacker-types, though potentially bad news for everyone else: as of yesterday (April 8), Microsoft no longer supports its XP operating system.
What does this mean for XP users? It means that your computer today and beyond will work just as well as it did on April 7 and before — except Microsoft will no longer provide security updates, which means that the next time some hacker discovers an exploitable weakness in XP, Microsoft won't fix it.
Even that won't cause problems for you if your XP computer is a self-contained hermit entity – never connects to the Internet, never receives an email or text message, never installs new software or makes any use of its USB ports.
However: you're reading this article now, which means you're probably online. And if you're here via a computer or tablet running on XP — watch out. Henceforth, every time you click a link, open an attachment or visit a website, it's kind of like having unprotected sex with someone: if your partner is clean and virus-free, you won't catch any diseases. But if your partner (or that link, website, attachment et al) has something nasty and contagious ….
Still at risk
Only here's where the sex analogy breaks down: even if your computer/Internet browsing device is 100% updated, hackerproof and XP-free, and your own online activities 100% protected and responsible, you're still at risk if you interact with any remaining XP users still out there, including (at last estimate) between 75 to 95% of all American ATMs, 10% of all U.S. government computers, 85% of computers in the U.K.'s National Health Service, and up to half of all the computers in China.
So you could, for example, have a nice secure computer and thoroughly responsible online experience, and still have a hacker clean out your bank account after you visit an ATM, or put false charges on your credit card after you use the online option to renew your state DMV paperwork.
Why is Microsoft doing this? Its own website says:
Microsoft provided support for Windows XP for the past 12 years. But the time came for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources toward supporting more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences.
As a result, technical assistance for Windows XP is no longer available, including automatic updates that help protect your PC.
It's tempting to snark “Great new experiences? Sure, like the experience of planned obsolescence and you Microsoft guys having a greattime cashing the big checks you'll get after selling all those expensive new operating systems, right?”
But honestly, that's not a fair criticism to make, because 12 years is a looong time in software/technological terms. Computer ages are measured in dog years, only moreso: a 12-year-old human is still just a kid, whereas a 12-year-old dog is downright elderly.
This is scant comfort for those who maybe can't afford to upgrade their operating system right now — or those who interact with financial, insurance or governmental agencies which won't bother upgrading. You'll need to be not merely vigilant but hyper-vigilant: do your bank's ATMs use XP? What about your local or state-level government websites — is it safe to pay taxes or registration fees online, or is it safer to mail checks, or visit offices in person?
Expect to see a lot more “hackers breach database; steal consumer information” news articles in the near future.
Review your options: we outline a few in this article