Microsoft will cut off support to its 12-year-old operating system Windows XP at about 1 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, leaving more than a quarter of the world’s computers effectively undefended against hackers and cybercriminals.
And because outdated software renders the computers that run it vulnerable to malicious programs deployed by hackers, that’s bad news for everyone in today’s ultra-connected world.
Security experts liken the estimated 500 million computers still running the antiquated XP program to a group of unvaccinated children: Their vulnerability to infection puts at risk the health of the whole population.
“It’s a matter of herd immunity,” said Gary McGraw, chief technology officer of Virginia-based software security firm Cigital, “If there’s a group using old, outdated, unpatched software, it makes us all collectively more vulnerable.”
For users at home, the risks are bad enough: Outdated software means their computers can be infected to send cybercrooks password and login information for their bank or online shopping accounts. But for companies, a single unpatched machine is a back door hackers can use to get around expensive security measures and take over an entire network.