Computers at risk as Windows XP support ends

Computers at risk as Windows XP support ends

SINGAPORE - An estimated half a million computers in Singapore are still running on Windows XP, even as Microsoft pulls the plug on the 13-year-old operating system (OS) tomorrow.

While some computer users drag their feet, put off by the need to buy a new computer if they upgrade their OS, Microsoft and security experts warn they will be easy targets for hackers. This is because security patches will no longer be issued after tomorrow.

With a 9 per cent market share, Windows XP is the third-most popular OS in Singapore, after Windows 7 and Mac OS X, according to US-based Web analytics firm StatCounter. It tracks the OS of visitors to some three million websites.

Microsoft estimates that this translates to some half a million Windows XP computers here.

"If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses," Microsoft warned on its website.

Analysts said a lot of harm can be done to and via these machines.

"XP still has many vulnerabilities both known and unknown," said Mr Vincent Oh, regional director of computer security firm McAfee in South-east Asia and India.

"What is more disturbing is the thought that hackers could be holding back their exploits on unpublished vulnerabilities only to launch them after the support for XP ends," he added.

For instance, passwords could be intercepted to gain access to users' banking accounts. Users could also unwittingly download malware that steals information in their computers when they visit infected websites.

Microsoft Singapore's Windows business group boss, Ms Joy Quek, said Win XP users are exposed to security risks about six times higher than those for its latest OS Windows 8.

Mr David Siah, security software firm Trend Micro Singapore's country manager, said any compromised system "is a threat not just for the people and businesses using it, but can also be a threat to others on the Internet".

For instance, compromised computers could be controlled by hackers to launch attacks on other computers that may bring down critical banking services or leak customers' personal information.

But full-time national serviceman Shaun Tan, 19, said he is willing to "take a chance" on such risks as upgrading his OS would mean buying a new computer.

He said his laptop, which is almost four years old, is not fast enough to support the Windows 7 or 8 operating systems. "There are a lot of hidden costs," he said.

The Straits Times understands that thousands of banking ATMs here are still on Windows XP, but banks have bought multi-year customised support from Microsoft while upgrading their machines in phases.

This article was published on April 7 in The Straits Times.

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