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Microsoft retains weapon to silently scrub XP

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 27, 2014
Will automatically push malware cleanup tool to Windows XP until July 2015.

Although Microsoft has not stopped urging customers to dump XP, it has recognized that millions of machines will continue to run the ancient OS for months and maybe even years to come.

According to metrics company Net Applications, Windows XP's user share — the percentage of all personal computer owners who went online with that OS — stood at 29% at the end of December 2013. Computerworld has predicted that about 20% of all personal computers will be running the operating system at the end of 2014.

Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test, a German company that evaluates security software, said Microsoft's decision to continue providing signatures for Security Essentials was prompted by the still-large numbers of PCs running XP.

"It's a significant move, which is likely driven by the (still) high market share for Windows XP, especially in countries like China or India, as well as the millions of users who are using Security Essentials as anti-virus protection on Windows XP," said Marx in an email reply to questions earlier this month.

Security Essentials has performed poorly in AV-Test's recent exams, and Marx cautioned users who plan to reply on it to keep their systems safe after Microsoft stops patching XP. "[Security Essentials] is baseline protection and well-suited for people who are not often using the Internet," Marx said. "But if you're online quite often and for long times, if you do financial transactions with your system and the like, I would strongly recommend switching to a commercial security suite."

Most antivirus vendors will continue to provide customers running Windows XP with up-to-date signatures for years after Microsoft pulls the patch plug in April.

Kaspersky, BitDefender and Avira — the last is free —were the top-scoring consumer antivirus programs for Windows XP in AV-Test's latest head-to-head comparisons. For business PCs, Kaspersky, Symantec and Trend Micro ranked 1-2-3.

Instructions for turning on XP's Automatic Updates can be found on Microsoft's support site, along with a "Fixit" tool that takes care of the chore with a single click.Read more about malware and vulnerabilities in Computerworld's Malware and Vulnerabilities Topic Center.


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