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Life support's ABOUT to be switched off, but XP's suddenly COOL again

Perplexing popularity boost as users to face hackers alone come 9 April

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Windows XP has enjoyed a second resurgence in popularity, despite its looming end-of-support date.

Net Applications' data for desktop operating systems in January showed Windows XP had increased its market share by a fraction.

It marked the Windows Vista predecessor's second bounce in its slowly declining market share, which last went up in July 2013.

Windows 7, which has been slowly replacing Windows XP on machines, dipped a little while 8.1 benefited from the Christmas consumer boost. January’s figure probably accounts for a Christmas-era slow down in upgrades in the workplace.

Regardless, the painfully small market share changes and overall glacial movement in this market shows just how painfully slow migrations from Windows XP to Windows 7 are proceeding ahead of an 8 April deadline for end of support for Windows XP from Microsoft.

The numbers also illustrate the risk facing millions of PCs and users to malware and viruses that target Windows XP.

From 8 April, Microsoft will not be making security fixes available for the operating system.

The company did announce in January it is extending the life of its Security Essentials for Windows XP for another 18 months. That means Microsoft will keep updating its malware signatures engine for Windows XP until 14 July, 2015.

But this won’t tackle malicious code written to target specific files in the operating system itself – code such as the Blaster worm which wreaked havoc in 2003 - causing Windows XP and Windows 2000 boxes to continually crash and reboot and is estimated to have hit 54 million people. It took Microsoft's release of Service Pack 2 in 2004 that blocked Blaster via operating system changes.

That means machines running Windows XP will be vulnerable to malware written to infect PCs or that propagates via email and can be used to steal users’ personal information or turn the PC into an unwilling member of botnet.

Two schools of thought exist over what will happen after 8 April.

Either malware authors will strike quickly, targeting known vulnerabilities they have been holding off on exploiting until after 8 April, or authors will unleash attacks over the long term instead.

Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test, told The Reg: “My guess is they will wait until Microsoft has stopped all security updates.”

Browser upgrade specialist Browsium, working with customers on Windows XP and IE migrations, re-iterated the urgency of getting off Windows XP before April and regardless of Microsoft’s extension of the Security Essentials’ deadline.

According to Browsium – and Microsoft confirmed this to us – much of the reporting on Security Essentials has confused the matter.

Headlines here and here have given the impression Microsoft has extended Windows XP’s security updates, when it is only anti-malware protection that has changed.

Browsium stressed Microsoft will not release any patches to zero-day exploits after the 8 April deadline and users of Windows XP will face attackers on their own – without Microsoft.

“This isn’t an extension of XP support, it’s an extension of anti-virus and anti-malware signatures for attacks that target the XP platform. That’s a big difference,” Browsium wrote in a blog here.

"Microsoft is not going to patch anything. There will be no software fixes for XP coming from Redmond. If you are running systems with Windows XP come the morning of April 9, 2014, you are on your own," Browsium said. ®

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