Why You Shouldn’t Use Windows XP

You shouldn’t use Windows XP. If you do, your computer could be being used by criminals to send spam and hack other sites. Let me explain.

All software is imperfect and has flaws. These flaws are called bugs (Read this to see why). Updates are released periodically by the makers of software to fix these bugs, making the software work better.

Some of the bugs in software are simply annoying, kind of like a typo in a novel you might read. It makes you pause while your are reading, but it doesn’t prevent you from understanding the story.

Other bugs are security threats. This is more like when you lose your keys or your wallet. It’s a real pain if you don’t find them because then you need to change your locks or get new credit cards.

Software companies only support their software for a limited period of time. As they release new versions of their software, it becomes harder to support multiple versions. So they eventually stop supporting the older versions.

An operating system is the software that runs your computer. If you use a Mac, your operating system (OS) is likely Apple OS X. If you are using a PC, you are most likely using some version of Windows. Windows has gone through many versions over the years. The latest version is Windows 10.

Windows XP was released in 2001. It was supported for over 12 years (that is a very long time!). Support and security patches ended on April 8, 2014. That means that any bugs, including security bugs, that were found after that date will no longer be fixed. So if you are currently running Windows XP on your computer, your computer is at a high risk of being compromised in some way (e.g. getting a virus or becoming part of a botnet).

If your are currently using Windows XP, there are two things you can do to use your computer more safely:

  1. Upgrade your computer to a version of Windows that is supported, like Windows 7 or Windows 8 or Windows 10 (there is no Windows 9)
  2. Install a free open source operating system like Ubuntu, a flavor of the Linux operating system

If you are looking to choose number 1, you will most likely need to buy a newer computer. It is very likely that your computer hardware is too old and slow to run a newer version of Windows. To determine if this is your situation, you can go to Best Buy and ask the Geek Squad or call your local computer tech guy for help. You can also contact me. I’d be happy to help you.

If you choose to go with choice 2, you can almost certainly use the computer hardware you currently have. You will still likely need help installing the new operating system without losing any of your data. You can go to the same sources as choice 1 for help, including me.

Next week I will go over why you might want to consider using open source software even if you don’t need to upgrade from Windows XP.

Lots of Questions!

Framingham Public Library

The presentation on Friday went extremely well. Even before the presentation started, audience members were asking questions. We started on time, and it wasn’t very long before my prepared remarks became reference notes for answering questions. Everyone was very interested and took notes. Everything I prepared to cover is in the outline on this page. In addition we covered the following:

  • Don’t ever access sensitive financial information while you are on public wifi
  • How to avoid phishing scams where emails seem to come from a reputable sort but they are really from hackers
  • How to avoid “social engineering” attacks; for example, when you receive an unexpected call from your bank, do NOT verify your PIN or password as your bank will never ask for it

I also found some appropriate library books on security and privacy, displaying them at the front of the room. After the talk, many attendees came up to ask for help with individual questions. I even helped one person to put a new more secure password on his iPhone.

All in all, it was a very successful and well-received event. The library may be interested in a similar evening talk. I am also looking for other venues to present at. If you know of anyone who would like a similar presentation, please contact me. And I am also available to help individuals on a one-on-one basis.

Live Presentation

Every year my local library has a summers series of lunch presentations on Fridays. Last year they invited me to present on the topic of passwords. I am doing a similar presentation this Friday at noon about Password Security and Privacy. See the details in the flyer below. Next week, I will review the experience here on my blog.

In preparation for the event, I have been reading a recent book about privacy and security called The Art of Invisibility by Kevin Mitnick. The author is a hacker who explains a bit how technology works and a lot about how it affects you and your privacy and security. One of the most important points he makes is to make sure that you have a password on your smartphone. This will be one my first points in my presentation on Friday. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there!

Managing Passwords

Bad Password

There are a lot of recommendations out there about how to create secure passwords.

  • Use a unique password on each site
  • Make them hard to guess
  • Use numbers and special characters (like *~$#@)
  • Don’t write them down any where

If we do all that, how are we supposed to remember the seemingly zillions of passwords we need to remember? It seems an impossible task.

One highly recommended solution is to use a password manager. I use one every day. The most popular ones even include a password generator to help you create better passwords. Essentially, a password manager is a place to create and store your passwords. You secure access to it with a password, but this password becomes the only password you need to remember. All of your other passwords are locked in your password manager. When you need to enter a password, you simply open up your password manager to find the password for the site and copy and paste it into the login screen. Many managers even have browser plugins that will do this for you automatically!

There are many password managers out there. Most of them have a free version as well as a premium version. The premium versions are generally inexpensive (I know of one that is $12/month). The one that is best for you will depend on how you use passwords and what digital tools you use (smartphone, tablet, computer). Here is a list (in alphabetical order) of some of the most popular ones.

Finally, here are a few recent articles reviewing password managers.

So, don’t wait. It will take a little bit of work and time. But it will be worth it to protect your data and information from all the hackers and security breaches that seem to fill the news today. And if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.