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Why Windows XP users are more vulnerable to threats

Beyond losing official support from Microsoft, the 13-year-old OS was developed in a simpler time when today's cyberthreats were far in the future.

Windows XP continues to hang on.
Windows XP, your time has come. CNET

Microsoft has been urging Windows XP users to migrate to a more modern OS as support ends today. But even with the latest patches, XP had worn out its welcome in a world of more advanced cyberthreats.

As Microsoft first announced almost seven years ago, XP loses support today. That doesn't mean XP computers around the world suddenly stop working. But it does mean that they're at higher risk since Microsoft will no longer support them.

Specifically, XP users will no longer receive bug fixes, security patches, or other updates designed to protect the core OS. Today's Patch Tuesday marks the last round of updates for XP. Yet even with patches a plenty, the OS at its core has been living on borrowed time the past few years.

"Windows XP was launched in 2001, which meant the design and engineering of it took place in the late 90s into 2000, which was a very different world when we think about the profiles of the malware and the profiles of the hackers and bad people attacking PCs on the Internet," Tom Murphy, director of communications for Windows at Microsoft, told CNET. "It was a much simpler time."

Dinged by security problems in the past, Microsoft has also made security a higher priority in the years since XP. That focus helped it shore up Windows 7 and Windows 8 as more secure operating systems. In particular, Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative was the push needed to make sure all of the company's products are built with security in mind.

"So if you look at Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 over XP, there's a fundamentally different security model that makes them more secure than an XP machine," Murphy said. "And there are ways to reduce the risk [to XP] such as antivirus. But it's very important that consumers understand that even with an antivirus software solution, your XP machine is at risk because there's a chance there may be a vulnerability in the actual operating system itself, and your antivirus software will not stop that."

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