Microsoft cautions against Windows XP hack

The hack seemingly allows XP users to continue to install security updates, but Microsoft is advising people not to use it.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Windows XP CNET

Microsoft is warning XP users to steer clear of a hack that installs security updates despite the recent end of support for the aged OS.

In a statement sent to ZDNet on Monday, Microsoft explained:

"We recently became aware of a hack that purportedly aims to provide security updates to Windows XP customers. The security updates that could be installed are intended for Windows Embedded and Windows Server 2003 customers and do not fully protect Windows XP customers. Windows XP customers also run a significant risk of functionality issues with their machines if they install these updates, as they are not tested against Windows XP. The best way for Windows XP customers to protect their systems is to upgrade to a more modern operating system, like Windows 7 or Windows 8.1."

As described by Betanews, the hack directs updates intended for Windows Embedded Industry and Windows Server 2003 to XP machines via a Registry change. But XP isn't quite the same as Windows Embedded or Server 2003.

Microsoft turned off the support tap for Windows XP in early April, which means the software giant will no longer provide bug fixes, security patches, or other updates for the OS. That cutoff puts XP users at risk, so it's only natural that some would try to find a workaround to keep their XP computers secure.

It's hard to say exactly how prevalent XP remains 12 years -- an eternity in the software world -- after it went into service, but that version of the desktop OS may still account for between 18 percent and 30 percent of all Windows PCs, according to Web analytics firms. Microsoft says it has been warning users of the impending end to extended support for XP since the latter part of 2007. The subsequent Windows 7 is now the most widely used desktop operating system, and Microsoft is now pushing users toward the latest manifestation, Windows 8.

Microsoft has been working on temporary custom support options for larger businesses, whose many legacy systems and established processes often mean they can't react quickly to software changes.

For consumers wondering whether Windows 7 or Windows 8 will run on their existing PC or will support their current software, Microsoft offers a Windows Upgrade Assistant tool that will analyze a PC's hardware and software to determine if it can handle a more modern OS.