Avast: Windows XP users already attacked 6 times more often than Windows 7 users

And that's BEFORE Microsoft discontinues Windows XP security support on April 8.

The words of warning about Windows XP's impending end-of-life are no joke. After April 8, Microsoft will stop supplying security patches for the 13-year-old operating system--and a recent blog post by Avast, provider of one of the more popular free antivirus solutions around, drives home just how dangerous using Windows XP beyond that is.

"The vulnerable OS will be an easy target for hackers and be seen as a gateway to infect other non-XP operating systems," Avast COO Ondrej Vlcek wrote on the company's blog. "Our telemetry data shows that XP users are 6 times more likely to get attacked than Windows 7 users and once Microsoft stops issuing patches, this can worsen."

You read that right: XP users are 6 times more likely to get attacked--and that's while the operating system is still supported. Making matters worse, nearly a quarter of Avast's 211 million users are still running Windows XP, and various estimates suggest a fifth to a third of all Net-connected PCs still rock the ancient OS.

Zero day forever

Admittedly, Avast has a vested interest in getting people to use its software, but Vlcek's words echo those of Tim Rains, the director of Trustworthy Computing for Microsoft.

"The very first month that Microsoft releases security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will reverse engineer those updates, find the vulnerabilities, and test Windows XP to see if it shares those vulnerabilities," Rains said in August. "If it does, attackers will attempt to develop exploit code that can take advantage of those vulnerabilities on Windows XP. Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero-day' vulnerability forever."

Other experts have repeatedly warned that April 8 could spark a hacker feeding frenzy. So what's an abandoned Windows XP user to do?

Well, Microsoft would love for you to use Windows 7 or 8, naturally. And Avast would love for you to start using Avast, which will continue to support Windows XP after April 8--also naturally. But those aren't your only options.

First of all, make sure you're using smart security habits and staying safe online. Beyond behavioral awareness, you'll also want to check out PCWorld's guide to keeping your computer secure when Windows XP support ends for a slew of nitty-gritty PC protection tips. (Yes, keeping your antivirus up-to-date is one tip, but just one of many.) And if you use your PC for basic tasks and aren't absolutely wedded to your Windows programs, our roundup of three easy, free alternative operating systems for Windows XP refugees can help you find security in the arms of Linux.

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