Microsoft Report Shows Why You Should Abandon XP Now


microsoft-windows-xp-logoMicrosoft has recently released its latest Security Intelligence Report (SIR) which details, among other things, rates of malware infections across the various Windows operating systems. The report is entirely security related and not meant specifically as a vessel to encourage XP users to upgrade. However, that certainly is a side effect, unintentional or not – many of the report’s findings do suggest that an immediate upgrade might be a prudent move for XP users.

The comprehensive report is actually 160 pages long, but malware encounter and infection rate comparatives have been specifically highlighted in a separate Microsoft Technet blog article. The included infection rate chart appears to clearly indicate why users should replace XP as soon as possible:

 Malware Infection and encounter rates for Windows operating systems during 2Q13

Malware Infection and encounter rates for Windows operating systems during 2Q13

The infection rate chart shows computers cleaned up out of every thousand on which Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) was used. The encounter rate shows computers on which malware was detected – and almost certainly prevented from infecting – out of every hundred protected by a Microsoft virus blocker. The side by side comparisons show that, while Windows XP SP3 computers encountered almost as much malware as other platforms, computers running Windows XP experienced a much higher overall infection rate.

On the surface at least, these statistics tend to confirm that users who went looking for possible malware via MSRT were 5.7 times more likely to find infections on XP than on Windows 8. On the other hand, MSRT has never been a broad spectrum anti-malware tool, mainly dealing with only the most commonly encountered malware families. As such, it could be argued that MSRT has perhaps developed a bias toward XP related malware in general, and the infection rate statistics shown may merely represent the level of MSRT’s effectiveness per Windows version.

I suspect the truth may lie somewhere in between; while XP may not be exactly 5.7 times more dangerous than Windows 8, I do believe it is reasonable to accept that Microsoft’s collected data supports a claim of heightened risk levels for users who continue on with XP. It’s also apparent that enhanced security measures, such as Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), which were introduced into Windows and Internet Explorer post XP, have greatly bolstered overall security.


About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

34 Comments

  1. I suppose it depends on the definition of malware.
    Nowadays, in my line of work, one of the tasks that takes a great deal of my time is the removal of unwanted toolbars, useless search tools and general rubbish that I now consider to be malware by definition.

    • Hey Marc – Interesting comment! I know of several others in the PC repair industry who also now consider PUPs to be malware. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that philosophy, the trouble is that in many cases these PUPs are entirely avoidable per medium of opt-out, and the fact that useless toolbars, etc. end up installed is often down to a user’s own lack of vigilance.

      Cheers mate… Jim

        • experienced novice” – is that not an oxymoron.

          For your information: there is a total of 3 acronyms used throughout the article and every single one is accompanied by its full title.

          However, since you asked so nicely, here is the full meaning of PUPs = Potentially Unwanted Programs.

          By the way (see how I’m spelling everything out for you): My friends call me Jim, you may address me as Mr. Hillier.

  2. What users these days should be doing is watching where they go.
    Legit sites like Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, are safe.
    Mainly kids that are too determined to see something that they shouldn’t, before you know it they are clicking everywhere possible to get to see what they wanted to see.

    • Hey Bill – The time frame is included in the caption directly under the image. The findings are taken from the second quarter of 2013 (“during 2Q13”). So no, it cannot be put down to XP being around longer.

      The most critical finding from the statistics is; although the malware encounter rate is very similar across all OSs, the incidence of those encounters actually leading to infections is very much higher in XP. The logical assumption then is that the additional security measures built into later versions of Windows and Internet Explorer are blocking much of the malware which is infecting XP systems.

      In short, it more or less proves that XP is quite a bit more vulnerable to infection than more recent OSs.

      Cheers… Jim

  3. Seriously I run a charting program and a wonderful slide scanner that hiccup on a y XP after service pack one. Was looking for an alternative. Run XP with Mozilla on laptop . I think the previous correspondent was trying to make the case that there would have been more computers running XP than the other platforms when the study was done; ie were they looking at equal numbers of computers running each of the differentvplatforms.

    • Hi … um … er … Golly. 🙂

      As stated in the article; the statistics were extrapolated per 1000 computers for infections and per 100 for encounters. So the results have nothing to do with OS market share percentages, deployment numbers, or ages of operating systems.

      Cheers… Jim

  4. Hi again, Jim, and et al: I had just chimed in a little earlier this morning on a different thread about the newer nefarious “ransomware” critters, and how I had fallen victim. Carrying that over to this thread I would again point out, incidentally, that my attack came by way of my WinXP, by golly! However… am I to believe for one moment that that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been using my Win7, or my wife’s Win8? I think not, that I could not support that notion; (are there no Win8 out there that are hit, too, by the likes of ransomeware, etc.? I’ve heard, somewhere, (maybe while placing a seashell to my ear – LoL) that there are some ISPs across this great nation that provide some first-line modicum of cyber attacks, and they market that fact in selling internet connection services to customers, and all the years we’ve read and heard that our packaged, built-in PC OS’s firewall has a level of defense for us. Oh yeah? Can anyone prove it? Is there some hidden gauge in our PCs that would show us all the bad critters that it (firewalls) defend us from? Oh…! ‘scuse me. What were we discussing?

    • All OSs are vulnerable Dane, just some more than others. The thing with CryproLocker and similar ransomware is that they generally rely on some sort of user interaction to infect, such as clicking on a malicious email attachment for example. So, these types of infections are difficult to guard against and, to a certain extent, often self inflicted.

      That’s not to say those who fall victim are necessarily careless or naive, the crooks behind many of these attacks are experts in social engineering and their scams often well disguised. It’s one of the main reasons security experts collectively advise against clicking on attachments from unknown or unverified senders, and advocate cautious clicking in general.

      Cheers… Jim

  5. Interesting. I am, however, stuck with Windows XP until I can afford a new computer. By that time we’ll probably have Windows 13 available

  6. I am not computer literate by any stretch of the imagination, but my Windows XP operating system has never been infected by any malware or virus in the 10 plus years that I have used it. I just make sure that my Security is up-to-date.

    • Hi Peter – I’d hazard a guess that you would be the exception rather than the rule. It’s not really all that difficult to mitigate the malware threat if one adheres strictly to the dictates proffered by most security experts; keep all software always up-to-date, surf safely, click cautiously, etc, etc. Trouble is, not too many do.

      Cheers… Jim

    • Hey Bill – You have been added to the list mate but as yet ‘unconfirmed’. You should receive a confirmation email from DCT, just follow the steps to confirm and, all done.

      Cheers… Jim

  7. I’m with Peter – so far no infections on XP for me on my old desktop either, fingers *and* toes crossed. I use Firefox and Mozilla says they’re going to continue to support XP ( http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2303737/mozilla-commits-to-firefox-support-for-windows-xp-users ). I run Avast (the free version) on the XP machine, have a router with a firewall, and am a very cautious clicker. The poor old desktop runs just fine with XP and does what I need it to do, but it wouldn’t be able to handle Windows 7 or 8.

    Maybe Microsoft should think about producing fewer versions of Windows, getting them right, making them clean and efficient, and supporting them longer. Windows 7 is okay, although for reasons I can’t understand, Windows 7 is missing some of the functionality of XP. As far as I can tell, what Microsoft has done with the user interface in Windows 8 is the computer equivalent of switching the car-driver interface design from wheel to joystick not for any particular improvement in efficiency but just to make it look different. That might be fine for people who use computers as toys and entertainment, I suppose, but it is a major pain for people who use them as tools.

    I’ll stop using XP when every computer I’ve got running it dies, whether death comes as a result of a malware infestation I can’t fix or as a result of old age.

  8. The problem with statistics is that they show whatever the collector wishes them to show. As there are more machines in the world that use XP, the odds of taking a number of those that are infected is greater than those that use other operating systems and therefore I do not put all that much trust into statistics.

    If you work on percentages across total used machines, then the results would show approximately the same figures.

  9. Older machines are more likely to be infected than newer machines simply because they’ve surfed longer. *duh* Hillier’s assertion that “…no, it cannot be put down to XP being around longer” does not follow in the way that he imagines it follows. The XP machines that the Malicious Software Removal Tool is used on have obviously averaged more exposure to potential “malware” over their longer lifetimes than the Win7 machines and, as mentioned, the older malware is more likely to be identified by the MSRT as malware than more recent spawn. There is -nothing- in the data quoted to indicate that the current success -rate- for malware is greater against XP machines than the others.

  10. Of course I realize the MSRT is updated. But the is machines it is installed on change and the malware it detects are not in general indicative of success rate over any constant interval. Again, ” XP machines that the Malicious Software Removal Tool is used on have obviously averaged more exposure to potential malware over their longer lifetimes than the Win7 machines”. They’re older and dirtier but not necessarily more vulnerable. They -may- be more vulnerable, but the SIR data quoted doesn’t show it. The “infection rate” is per 1000/scanned, not per exposure. The headline on this article is simply nonsense.

    • I see your point, but the report is not time based, per se. It is based on the installed number of units in the reported period, thus we can assume that each unit was clean(ed) after the previous run of MSRT and the report is based on the same 30 day periods for each OS. While the report may include multiple 30 day (MSRT lifecycle) periods it would not include periods where XP was released, but Win 7 was not, so it is not looking at XP’s long life-cycle.

      Since it can be assumed that the machines were cleaned and updated during the last MSRT cycle then each machine must have had a clean “baseline” and measured during the same time periods.

      I’m definitely not trying to argue in any way, shape, or form. Maybe we’re actually on the same page, but using different vernacular. What I’m sure we can agree on is that XP is nearing end of life and the version of IE available to XP is less than stellar on multiple fronts.

  11. I’ve been using MS since version Dos2.1 and Win3.1. I loved XP for years. My dedicated scanner only works on XP. For that reason it takes up lots of space while I use my Win7 laptop for everything else.
    My friend is always asking for help with his Win8. Ugh! reminds me of my foolish excursion/aberration with the dreaded Vista.
    Will they follow 8 with a user-friendly version?

  12. I have an old printer operating with XP atm. How can I be sure it will operate with Win8?
    And the PC is more than 10 years old as well! Sometimes I think, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”
    And that’s why I’ve ignored Win 7 and Win8 up till now.
    BTW I also use a Mac 🙂

  13. Sure XP is older and showing it’s age, It is more likely to incur infection due to the aging IE browser as well as the os’s win defender and firewall are useless at best. not to mention most of these “Malware” devices are designed with xp in mind. I would also would guess that most of the world is still using XP, for it’s stability, dependability, and overall familiarity. (Some feel Win 8 is something entirely new to learn.) I being a repair tech have 2 “Battle Ships” in my “War Room” that I subject to a daily bombardment of customers infected hard drives. these two war torn, work horses. take a “Beating” that is “Above average” I would say, now here is the “Clincher” There are many nights that I stay late, and While I got one machine “Under fire” and preforming an all out assault. on what ever is new and improved in the virus/malware industry, the other is “Smoothly running my first person shooter Game, or watching Veetle to “Pass the time” for “my Forces to be victorious on the XP battlefield I choose to play on. Both machines are 5+ years old, both run identical OS and software. I have a backup image of my setup, but haven’t ever needed to re-image yet. maybe this is because I do “Update and Scan these machines” at an “Almost daily rate”, or maybe I have found what works for me in my “Armor” setup. or possible the fact that I have a “Set routine” and seldom stray from it… All I am saying here is I may move on from the “Comforts of XP” but not until the hardware running fails… My thoughts are to Jump to Win7 as my next “Class of Battleships”. I sure do clean a lot of Vista and win7 machines… Only 2 machines running win8 have come in for cleaning and one had “search conduit” and a boatload of it’s affiliates all needing a knockout. the other win8 machine had “Green dot virus”, both of these, could just as easily been infections on any win os… NOT SURE I SEE THE URGENCY TO “FLEE” from XP”! yet!!!

    • Hey Tom – You are obviously an experienced and savvy user. Trouble is, the vast majority of users are not. I repair computers myself and if there’s one thing I have learned from my clientele… they need as much help as they can get. 🙂

  14. Yeah, and my 1958 Chrysler Imperial isn’t as “safe” as new cars! What BS! It gets better fuel economy than a little four seat econ-o-box and the front bumper weighs more than the engine/transaxles of those little death-traps. Yup, XP isn’t as good because it doesn’t cost a fortune, runs on computers that don’t cost more than my first new car, and isn’t the “newest-new” thing! It’s really strange, my best friend who works for the company that’s fixing the Healthcare Web-Site’s software ( XP-based, BTW), says it’s easier to “hack” Win8 than any version of Windows ever. But what does HE know? He “hacks” code for the NSA for a living…

    • Ricky,

      It’s really strange, my best friend who works for the company that’s fixing the Healthcare Web-Site’s software ( XP-based, BTW), says it’s easier to “hack” Win8 than any version of Windows ever. But what does HE know? He “hacks” code for the NSA for a living.

      If your friend is telling you that the healthcare.gov website runs on XP I can assure you that he knows absolutely little to nothing about computers, security, web development, the NSA, or operating systems for that matter and I wouldn’t trust him to plug my computer into an AC outlet. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I can assure you that healthcare.gov does NOT run on XP in any way, shape, or form.

      Now, if he truly believes Windows 8 is easier to “hack” than any previous OS he obviously should quit his current job as a contractor and move into the private sector. He could make his current yearly salary for just a few exploits and would be an instant expert in the field.

  15. XP is still most everywhere I look and will be for a long—- time. Most healthcare facilities that have been running on computer information systems for several years run XP and do not plan to change to Win7 except when expansion requires new computers. That being said, most user accessible computers in these facilities are not connected to the internet, may be running in the terminal mode, and are locked down tight. I haven’t seen Win7 in a old US Government facility (try VA system) , all XP or Vista. I’m sure none of these systems are counted in this report. As much as MS would like to sell many thousands of a new OS to old users, XP will be around for a long time.
    I also find that old and young users still using XP are more likely to not be computer savvy and more likely to fall for scams than people that buy the latest computer toy with Win7 or Win8.

    • Hi Hugh – Not sure why corporate deployment is entering the equation. I’m pretty sure MS’s report is referring primarily to PCs in a home environment, I’m absolutely certain we are.

      Cheers… Jim

  16. Hello Jim, I am running Windows XP sp3. I guess it is time to upgrade to Windows 7. Question: What do I have to do to upgrade? I have seen the video where you are instructed to save all your information such as My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Mail,etc to another hard drive. You then load Windows 7 to your computer. After Windows 7 is loaded you then transfer back all your computer information.
    I have also talked to a tech and he said to upgrade to Windows 7 you simply load Windows 7 on to your computer and you don’t have to move any of your information from one hard drive and then back again. I am confused. I know that I have to use the 32bits O/S. I also understand that I may not be able to use some of my existing programs. Will have to update them or buy new programs that work with Windows 7.
    Can you please explain what I have to do in this situation,

    Thanks Jim

    • Hi Dennis – I’m afraid what your “tech” told you is incorrect, XP to Windows 7 does not preserve anything at all, it’s a fresh install. The information in the video you saw is 100% correct.

      What you will need to do prior to upgrading:
      *Export your favorites/bookmarks from your browser to a HTML file.
      *If you use a locally installed email client, such as Outlook Express; export your contacts to CSV file – export you account settings – save any locally stored emails you wish to preserve (you will not have to worry about any of this if you use webmail, such as Gmail).
      *Copy or move all your personal files, documents, pictures, videos, music, etc.

      You will need to save all the above items to USB flash drive or external hard drive. Then, when you’ve completed the upgrade, you can import favorites/bookmarks, contacts, email account settings, back into your browser and email client. You can also choose to copy back all the personal data or just retain it separately on a flash drive/external hard drive – depending on how often you need to access those files.

      It wouldn’t be too difficult for us to compile and publish a complete guide, only trouble being that all the different configurations out there; different browsers, email clients, etc., make it just too unwieldy to include instructions for every possible scenario. If you let me know which browser you use, and which email client, I’ll see what I can do.

      Cheers… Jim