Microsoft Kills Windows XP Security Updates, Turning Millions Of Computers Into Hacker Playgrounds

CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates speaks during the product launch of the Windows XP operating system in 2001.

Microsoft killed off its outdated Windows XP operating system Tuesday by pulling security and technical support. Microsoft retired Windows XP in part because it is much more vulnerable to security problems than newer versions. Still, with almost a third of the world’s computers still running on the 12-year old system, everyone from consumers to banks to government agencies is now a prime target for hackers.

In a statement, Microsoft said:

Without critical Windows XP security updates, your PC may become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage your business data and information. Anti-virus software will also not be able to fully protect you once Windows XP itself is unsupported.

Computers running Windows XP will still work after April 8 but won’t be protected, Microsoft said. Even consumers who no longer use Windows XP could be affected by the transition, as government agencies and other institutions that collect sensitive information leave consumers personal data unprotected until they make the upgrades.

Millions of PIN numbers could be exposed by Windows XP’s retirement. About 95 percent of bank ATMs that still run on Windows XP won’t get any more security updates to patch flaws in the system. Some banks, such as JP Morgan, have worked out deals with Microsoft to extend security support until they can update their systems. Because the ATMs have to updated one at a time, the transition could take over a year and cost millions of dollars.

Classified and personal data collected by the federal government is also at risk. Agencies are rushing to upgrade hundreds of thousands of computers — some of which are on military networks — still running on Windows XP by 2015, according to The Washington Post.

Thousands of energy utility companies that control city lights and electricity are also among Windows XP users that must upgrade. If they don’t switch to a newer version of Windows soon, power grids across the country could fall victim to hacker-caused blackouts during the summer. In that event, there’s no telling how long a blackout would last because there’s no support from Microsoft, Huffington Post reported.

Microsoft also stopped support for Office 2003 products, which puts computers running on an updated version of Windows at risk for cyberattacks.