What the end of Windows XP support means for travelers using it on their computers

Microsoft Windows Splash Screen, photo by NSL Photography

Does your computer run on Microsoft Windows XP? If it does, you’re not alone. As of the end of last month, NetMarketShare reported almost 30 percent of computers world-wide are still running Microsoft Windows XP, more than three times the total number of Apple computers running all versions of OSX.

As of April 8th, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP. That means Microsoft will no longer be providing security and other critical updates and patches to the 13- year-old operating system.

You might ask if the end of Microsoft Windows XP support signals upcoming trouble for its users? In my opinion, it does!

Windows XP users have already found updated versions of their most used software and new software won’t run under Windows XP. Most Microsoft Windows-based software being released today requires Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 to run.

More and more software is no longer backwardly compatible with Windows XP.

The main problem for travelers using Microsoft Windows XP is security.

Travelers heavily use their computers for travel research and booking.

According to Statistic Brain, more than 148 million reservations are made online annually. They report that fully 57 percent of all travel reservations are made via the Internet.

We have seen in recent years that new security vulnerabilities in our computers seem to be discovered almost weekly and need to be patched. Microsoft and the other operating system providers like Apple regularly write update patches for their “current” operating systems and other programs to fix their security vulnerabilities and bugs.

As operating systems get older, the companies drop them from support, due to usage, cost and other considerations.

This month there were eight critical and important security patches for the different versions of Windows XP made available by Microsoft. After April 8th there will be no more patches and fixes. As security holes in Windows XP continue to be found by hackers and others intent on exploiting those problems, Windows XP computers will become more and more vulnerable to attack and compromise, possibly causing the loss of critical user data.

There are methods and tools Windows XP-based travel users can utilize to mitigate the security problems which could affect Windows XP.

• If you haven’t done so already, install the final Windows XP service pack, SP3, on your computer, then install all critical and security updates for the operating system. This will likely take a number of iterations, as there will be updates to updates. Continue updating and restarting your computer between updates, until there are no more critical or security updates listed to install.

• If you have not yet done so, install Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) on your Windows XP computer. Microsoft has agreed to support MSE through July 14, 2015. Use Microsoft Update to update MSE and Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, now part of MSE.

• Make sure you’re running one of the antivirus programs which will run on Windows XP, such as Avast, AVG and Norton. Be sure to keep its virus updates and the program current.

• Install an antispyware program on your Windows XP computer. Antivirus programs are good at preventing virus and virus-like infections, but aren’t as good spyware protectors. Products like Malwarebytes Pro and Spyhunter can save your computer from spyware problems.

• Regularly backup all your important data, including documents, spreadsheets and mail, to the cloud and/or an external drive.

• The biggest security hole in Windows XP is Internet Explorer (IE), the built-in web browser from Microsoft. For travelers, Internet browsers are likely your most used software, along with an email program, which may be IE, if you’re a webmail user.

Skift reported that in a study by the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, released in 2012, the majority of travelers booking hotel reservations online looked through an average of 15 travel sites before booking. That’s a lot of opportunity for web browser vulnerabilities to be exploited which can hurt a traveler’s computer.

With IE under Windows XP users are stuck with the vulnerable IE, version 8 (IE8), while the current, far more secure version of Internet Explorer is IE11. IE version 9 and above won’t run on Windows XP.

IE8 could be the single most vulnerable part of Windows XP, and for many travelers using Windows XP, it is the most used software on their computers.

If using Windows XP, immediately stop using IE and instead use the current versions of such browsers as Firefox and Chrome, both of which will run on Windows XP and are far more secure than IE8.

Finally, if you’re still using a Windows XP computer, while the above measures will help for a time, it’s time for an upgrade. If you’re sticking to Windows, upgrade to Windows 7, which will be an easy move, or Windows 8.1, which will require some change in your computing. Either one will have far superior security and the ability to run all the latest software available today. (Note, there may be some older programs you’re running on Windows XP today that might not run on Windows 7 and above.)