Upgrading Office 2003 and Windows XP: it’s a question of Security

As of 8 April 2014, Microsoft will end support for popular operating system and office suite, Windows XP and Office 2003. After such time Microsoft will discontinue the release of security updates and patches for both software platforms.

In the following article we will look at the possible security issues that arise from this announcement and look to answer some of your key questions and concerns.

How does this affect me?

With discontinued support in the event that hackers and/or cybercriminals identify vulnerabilities in the software system, Microsoft will not release a patch or update preventing the exploitation of any weakness that may not be covered.

What does that mean?

After the discontinuation date if a weakness is exposed then your copy of Windows XP or Office 2003 will remain vulnerable.

How likely is this?

If a software product is relatively obscure or unknown, then the threat of an attack is minimal, if the software is however mainstream, with a user base running into the millions, then it becomes a hugely tempting target. Effectively the bigger the user base, the bigger the potential payoff from uncovered vulnerabilities, so with recent reports from ZDNet estimating that more than 500 million PCs currently run Windows XP, it’s no surprise that widespread feedback from security professionals is that the likelihood of an attack on XP and Office 2003 past the discontinuation date is almost guaranteed.

How serious a security threat is this?

In short, the seriousness of the threat is as reflective of the level of sensitive data that you hold upon your PC. If Malware authors chose to target the products after 8 April 2014 then you could open yourself up to serious data theft and financial loss.

Historically, Malware for the most part is targeted toward government and private enterprise websites to disrupt operation and steal guarded information. Increasingly however, individuals are targeted in an attempt to gain personal information such as bank details, credit card details and social security numbers. So if you participate in online banking or purchase items online using credit or bank cards then you will be exposing yourself to significant risk.

Is there anything I can do?

If you are currently running Windows XP and/or Office 2003 then you have a variety of options available:

Upgrade your Software

One of the simplest options is to upgrade your existing software for which we’ve outlined a range of scenarios.

Upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7 – this is a fairly simple process, first thing you will need to do is download the Windows 7 Upgrade advisor to assess whether your PC is ready to run Windows 7. All being well you can then download a copy of Windows 7 and follow Microsoft’s handy guide for upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 in 5 simple steps.

Upgrade from XP to Windows 8 – though Microsoft provides you with the same tools, the pathway for upgrading from XP to 8 creates several issues including the fact you can only migrate your files and folders, your settings and programs will be lost. So first things first, assess if your PC is ready using the Windows 8 Upgrade advisor. If you meet the system requirements then simply purchase Windows 8 from the Microsoft store and follow Microsoft’s Windows XP to Windows 8 upgrade guide.

Upgrade Office 2003 to Office 2010 – this is less of an upgrade and more of a replacement process by uninstalling Office 2003 and installing a newer version of the program. If you’re looking to buy Office 2010, then you won’t find it on the Microsoft store, surprisingly they want to sell you the latest version of Office 2013. I must admit there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the latest system and as such will get all the latest security patches and updates. Once you’ve purchased a copy I recommend heading to the office site and checking the support section on getting started with Office 2010. This should give you all the info you need to know about the program with a range of migration guides.

Upgrade from Office 2003 to Office 2013 – same as before it’s a case of replacing not upgrading. Head to the store section of the Office site and select your chosen version of Office 2013. Then head back to the support section for getting started with Office 2013 products.

Purchase an antivirus program

If you don’t wish to upgrade to the latest versions of software then you do have the option of investing in a robust antivirus program. This process can add a prolonged layer of protection following the discontinuation date, but you will likely still expose yourself to increased risk.

There are a variety of antivirus options available, best to consider the big 3 which are Norton, Kaspersky and McAfee.

Problem solved?

Following this article, hopefully you are now aware of the potential risks presented if you are currently planning to run Windows XP and Office 2003 past the support discontinuation dates. You should also be equipped with a variety of options to nullify such issues.

If you have any further questions or think we’ve missed something, please feel free to drop us a comment.

Author Bio: Edward Jones works as a Technical Writer for Firebrand Training within the Marketing Department. Edward is responsible for the creating engaging How-to Guides and keeping the industry updated with the latest advances in the IT Certification sector.