Microsoft may have ended support for Windows XP, but free antivirus software vendor Avast projects that for millions of users, that won't mean squat.
Avast had previously reported that 23.6 percent of its users were still running Windows XP. In the days before Microsoft ended support of Windows XP on April 8, Avast surveyed close to 165,000 of those users. The results, released in in a blog post on Monday, indicate that 27 percent of Avast's Windows XP users don't plan on doing anything, even though Windows XP systems are theoretically vulnerable to attack from hitherto unreported vulnerabilities.
Avast itself has reported that Windows XP users are attacked several times more frequently than those running Windows 7.
Avast, like other antimalware vendors, has committed to supporting Windows XP for two years or more. Microsoft, too, has commited to antimalware updates until July 2015. But using antimalware as the duct tape for an otherwise unpatched system is generally considered unwise, as Avast itself notes. "This number is relatively high considering the security risks involved with the OS and makes one wonder how many XP users are not concerned about their protection and aren't planning on upgrading their OS, buying a new PC or seeking AV that will support them," the company noted.
Avast says it has over 200 million users who have downloaded and run its free antimalware suite, giving it a significant user base to query. Of the 164,496 users who responded, Avast said that that 21 percent of its Windows XP users were unaware that Microsoft was ending support for Windows XP. That might explain why only 15 percent of those Windows XP users were planning to upgrade their operating system, according to Avast. And only 5 percent of users plan to buy an entirely new PC, even though that, too, is strongly advised.
Avast also recommends that its customers switch away from Internet Explorer 8, whose version for Windows XP will no longer be supported. In its place, the company recommended users move to Google's Chrome browser, which updates itself.
Can antimalware protect the average PC? It depends on the needs, said Michael Silver, an analyst for Gartner, in an email. "Characterizing anti malware as a patch is really inaccurate," he wrote. "However there are companies that claim their antimalware software will specifically look for malicious activity based on security holes found after support ended, for example, Arkoon Extended XP. For some users and organizations that will be sufficient. For others, especially where compliance is an issue, an unsupported version of Windows is really a non-starter."
However, Silver added an important caveat: "Even a patched OS has risks. If you did enough to reduce surface area for attack, you could create a Windows XP system that's more secure than the typical Windows 7 PC," he said.
Avast executives could not be reached for comment, though a spokesperson did confirm the survey results for our article.
We talked to people who've consciously chosen to stick with Windows XP. By and large, those users believe that Windows XP PCs are essentially appliances, and good online behavior can eliminate the threats that come from malware and drive-by downloads.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has offered everything from free data transfer to discounts on new PCs to encourage users to switch. Even corporations and governments that have paid Microsoft dearly to extend support have to have a transition plan in place. But a significant percentage of those who have invested in Windows XP appear to be wedded to that OS. That choice is undoubtedly leaving them vulnerable to future problems.