Ask the Experts: Stay secure – move away from Windows XP

Now that Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows XP, business owners still relying on the old operating system face a serious security risk from hackers.

“They definitely don’t want to ignore the threat,” said Jason DeChicio of WingSwept, a Garner company that provides information technology support and data protection. “It is a real danger.”

XP users won’t receive software updates, including those that protect a PC from viruses and spyware.

Upgrading to Windows 7 or 8.1 is the best solution, even if that means purchasing new computers that are compatible with these versions, DeChicio said.

“People should move to a different system any way they can,” he said.

Windows 7 is fine for small businesses and might be more comfortable for XP users. “It’s not as huge of a jump in the interface,” he said.

And comfort is one reason a small business might hesitate to upgrade, DeChicio said.

“XP was an excellent operating system,” he said. “There were not a whole lot of reasons to leave it.”

A business also might choose to stick with XP in order to run specific software, such as a custom-made inventory system, that is incompatible with the newer Windows versions. In this situation, the XP machines could be disconnected from the Internet, and the other company computers could run the updated Windows. Installing additional security programs could help, too, although it wouldn’t completely mitigate the security risks, DeChicio said.

It is critical for XP users to back up their files, making sure that external drives are not left attached to the computer. Ideally, drives should be kept off-site to protect the data from theft or a fire.

Businesses should always be thinking ahead and budgeting for technology upgrades, DeChicio said.

Microsoft announced it will stop supporting the widely used Windows Server 2003 in July 2015.

“For businesses, that’ll be the next one to look out for,” DeChicio said. “That’ll be a big deal to a lot of companies.”

Before purchasing an upgrade, it’s important to check on the compatibility of printers, scanners or other hardware to see what operating systems support them. Manufacturer websites should have this information.

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