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Windows XP a headache for Microsoft

13 March 2014, 12:02 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - Microsoft has a problem - and it's called Windows XP.

Despite announcing that it will end support for Windows XP, the operating system retains its position as the second most popular OS globally, commanding a 21.7% market share.

That makes it more popular than MacOSX, Windows 8 and Windows Vista - combined. The dominant OS is Windows 7 which has a market share of 55.4%.

However, the fact that many computers still run an operating system more than a decade old, first going on sale in 2001, is problematic for the computing titan.

"Even in mature markets like North America and the UK, XP remains ahead of Windows 8, 8.1 and Vista," said Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter.

Zero days

StatCounter is an independent industry tracker and Cullen said that the continued use of an old OS may leave users vulnerable to cybercrime.

In Africa, Windows XP commands of market share 35.7% though in SA, the OS is at 17.2%, well behind Windows 7 at 63%.

"This has serious implications for users, especially businesses, as lack of support may leave their data and systems at risk of exposure to security and virus issues," said Cullen.

In late 2013, security firm Trustwave discovered a zero day vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer that could give hackers access to a computer.

A zero day refers to the discovery of a software vulnerability for which no patch yet exists. Criminals actively pay for the discovery of zero days on platforms such as TOR.

It implies that hackers can use the flaw to exploit a computer with the application without the user's consent or knowledge.

"This Internet Explorer zero day is currently used only on a small number of websites, and the attack was limited by its programmer to Japanese and Korean users. However, based on past experience, new drive-by exploits are quickly copied to other malicious sites because they can work against large number of users," said Trustwave director of Security Research Ziv Mador of the vulnerability which was reported to Microsoft.

Windows 8

While this was patched, the lack of continued support for an old operating system could mean that criminals could exploit software holes at will.

A lack of support for the OS will mean that by April this year, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for the software, even though it holds a commanding market position.

Windows 8 and 8.1, widely touted by the company as an OS for the mobile age has not seen the wide adoption expected, in part because many traditional Windows users have been turned off by the tile interface.

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