Stopgaps For Those Who Can’t Afford To Update Windows XP

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Yesterday I shared the news that Windows XP users have reached the end of the line in my post, Why You HAVE To Upgrade Windows XP Now. It wasn’t long before a regular reader contacted me to say the upgrade just wasn’t financially possible for him at this time, and to ask if there were any stopgap measures that could keep him safe for the time being.

Yes there are, but I cannot stress the importance of upgrading as soon as possible too strongly. Any stopgap measures you take may severely limit the use of your computer and won’t fully protect you from hacker or malware threats. With that said, if the upgrade is simply not possible for yourself or someone you know, here’s what can be done to minimize risk while saving up for a new computer.


Stay Offline As Much As Possible

Really, keeping your XP machine COMPLETELY offline is one of the best things you can do to minimize your risk. A computer that’s not capable of “talking” to any other computer or the internet is also not capable of receiving any malware or hacker contact through those avenues.

If you’re only using Wi-Fi for your internet connection, turn it off completely. Many laptop computers have a physical slider switch to turn Wi-Fi connectivity off or on quickly and easily; if you’re working with a laptop, look for that switch. If there’s no switch, or if you use W-Fi for things other than internet connectivity (e.g., printer connection) and ONLY want to turn off the internet connection, you’ll need to go to your Control Panel:

1) In Control Panel, select “Network and Internet” or “Network Connections” Note that you may need to open “Network and Internet” first, then select “Network Connections” from that screen.

2) All available internet and other network connections (including Wi-Fi) will be listed in the Network Connections window. Find your Wi-Fi or internet connection in the window and right-click to open a pop-up options menu.

3) If the connection is active, the first option in the pop-up menu will be “Disable”. Click to select it.


Update Your Antivirus

Keeping your antivirus software up to date will help, but it’s not a permanent fix. Only the most recent versions of antivirus software are sophisticated enough to detect and deal with the “smart” types of malware and viruses that are out there ‘in the wild’ today, and the most recent versions will not run on Windows XP. They need more memory, more processing power, and a more recent browser version than what XP can support.

So while it may be true that using a state of the art antivirus could all but eliminate the XP vulnerability, it’s simply not possible to run state of the art antivirus on an XP machine.


Use Your Antivirus Program To Scan EVERYTHING

Malware that goes after the operating system often comes from sources that bypass your antivirus program completely. Unless you’re in the habit of manually scanning every USB flash drive, DVD, floppy disc, and every other piece of technology that you ever connect to your XP machine, any one of them can load malware onto your machine without raising any kind of red flag with your antivirus program.

This is because antivirus programs are designed to be very alert to browser activity and to thoroughly vet any downloads, but when it comes to physically attaching something to the machine they generally leave it up to the user to decide whether or not to scan.


Back Up Often – DAILY, If Necessary

Operating system hacks are hacks that have the power to completely destroy your data and / or prevent Windows from loading at all. Even if the risk of such a hack is small, in a system that’s known to be vulnerable, that’s an unacceptable level of risk.

Until you’re able to move on from XP, back up to an external drive regularly—daily, if you’re creating new files or changing existing ones very frequently. Using a backup drive is faster than backing up to discs, and the drive will come with software that allows you to automatically schedule your backups to run unattended, as well as to limit the backup process to only files that are new or changed. The drives are very affordable, too. The Western Digital model pictured above is currently priced at $70 and holds a terabyte of data: that’s 1,024 gigabytes.

When those first attacks inevitably come—tech experts agree that it’s only a matter of time and we may start seeing them in as little as a matter of weeks—your computer may become useless, but at least you’ll know that your photos, files, and other important data have been spared from the attack and can be loaded to a new computer when you get one.


Stopgap measures are just that: stopgaps. None of these tips can offer a 100% guarantee your Windows XP machine will remain safe from attack, this is really just about reducing risk.


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