300,000 PCs at risk as security expires on Windows XP
A NEW wave of computer viruses will target the computers of 300,000 Irish people tomorrow, as the country's third most popular computer system is cut off from security support by Microsoft.
From tomorrow, there will be no further security patches issued for Windows XP, the computer operating system used by more than 10pc of Irish PCs.
The move means that new viruses and bugs released to target the computers will find little standing in their way.
"Make no mistake about it, unprotected PCs will face a rise in malware," said Patrick Ward, product manager for Microsoft Ireland.
"Although we've seen a steady decline in those using Windows XP, industry figures indicate that there are still perhaps one in 10 PCs here still using XP."
Microsoft is pulling the plug on security updates for Windows XP as it says the system is too old and too insecure to continue supporting.
It says that the 13-year-old operating system is 21 times less secure than its newest system, Windows 8.
The move leaves a third of all global PCs without effective virus protection, according to web-tracking firm Statcounter.
The Government has agreed a €3.3m emergency security deal with Microsoft to extend coverage for a further 12 months while it upgrades its PCs.
Legal experts now say that companies that ignore the Windows XP deadline could find themselves legally liable for computer-related mishaps.
"Because it's a flagged risk, if a client problem could be traced back to not upgrading your computer, you might face higher legal liability," said Paul Lambert, a partner at Merrion Legal and author of a new book on social media law in Ireland.
"In the US, we see class action suits against companies which are accused of not acting on vulnerabilities they were aware of. You can see similar considerations applying in the case of an insecure operating system."
The situation could even result in personal prosecutions, say other experts.
"If you are a company manager or director and you're aware of this issue but doing nothing, you're not fulfilling your fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders or customers," said Fintan Swanton, chairman of the Irish Association of Data Protection Officers.
"For example, if there's a breach in data protection law and it can be shown to be the result of neglect on the part of a company manager or director, you can potentially be held personally liable."
So you still have Windows XP. What now? There are three things you can do.
1. Upgrade your PC's operating system
If your computer is under five years old, it can probably upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows 8 costs around €100 to download from Microsoft.com. Bear in mind that not every computer can upgrade from XP to Windows 7 or 8: some might just be too old.
2. Keep using your old computer in a limited way
While all experts advise against this, not everyone will switch overnight. If you can't afford a new PC or operating system right away, there are still some things you can do to minimise your risk of infection.
"In this scenario, you should really try not to connect the PC to the internet," said Patrick Ward, product manager with Microsoft Ireland.
"If going online is unavoidable, at all costs avoid online transactions, or activities involving credit card entries, online banking and other sensitive information. This is the kind of stuff that you really don't want to be harvested."
Mr Ward said that continuing to use Internet Explorer on Windows XP was not a good idea, as it uses out-of-date security systems.
3. Just buy a new machine
This is the easiest option, but also the most expensive one. A new desktop PC (minus screen or keyboard, which you already have) costs from €300, while a new laptop costs from around the same.