Windows XP's support from Microsoft is no longer available as of Tuesday, resulting in millions of Americans facing potential security risks.
"It's literally everywhere still," Cylance Chief Scientist Ryan Permeh told CNN Money, referring to Windows XP
. "Every point that's running XP is ripe for worms. They haven't been much of a common occurrence in modern times, but any new vulnerability could result in mass infection with very little remediation."
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According to The Associated Press, Windows XP
is installed on approximately 30 percent of computers worldwide.
"What once was considered low-hanging fruit by hackers now has a big neon bull's eye on it," Patrick Thomas, a security consultant at the San Jose, Calif.-based firm Neohapsis, told the AP.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of government computers using Windows XP
are now believed to be vulnerable as a result of Microsoft's decision to drop the support and security updates, The Washington Post noted last month
Federal officials have reportedly known for years that Microsoft would withdraw its free support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014
, but many did not complete the necessary upgrades in time. Windows XP, which hit the market in 2001, is the operating system for an estimated 10 percent of the government's several million computers.
In an attempt to quell security concerns, Microsoft announced that it would still provide anti-malware-related updates through July 14, 2015 but warned users that the updates are of limited help on the outdated system.
Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski warned that in addition to the hacking risk, many computers with Windows XP will be prone to freezing and crashing without support to fix software bugs.
According to Kleczynski, hackers could actually reverse engineer more current software security patches to gain access to Windows XP computers.
"It's going to be interesting to say the least," Kleczynski told the AP. "There are plenty of black hats out there that are looking for the first vulnerability and will be looking at Windows 7 and 8 to find those vulnerabilities. And if you're able to find a vulnerability in XP, it's pretty much a silver key."
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So how can a person protect their system from hackers?
Microsoft recommends that consumers and businesses uninstall Windows XP on their computers and download Windows 7 or Windows 8, as the latter has support through 2023.
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