Microsoft has officially ended free, public support for Windows XP. Thus, those who continue to use this more-than-10-years-old operating system will no longer receive system updates. While the general recommendation is to update to Windows 7, doing so is not always possible for nor desired by many. So, how can someone continue to use Windows XP while minimizing their risks?
If the system is offline, in other words it does not have Internet access, there is almost no risk to worry about. Only malware that is brought to the system on removable media is of concern, and any risk from that can be reduced by using a third-party (i.e., non-Microsoft) anti-malware scanning tool. You will need to manually install updates to the detection database, but you can maintain a reasonable level of malware protection.
If the system is connected to the Internet, then it is essential to use a limited user account rather than an administrator account. Most compromises of Windows XP specifically — and OSs in general — are made possible because of the power and privileges of the administrator that are abused by malware and exploits that make their way onto a system. If the user is a limited user, then even when those same malicious attacks are attempted, they are unable to gain purchase on the core of the system and damage is limited or completely prevented. More than 98 percent of OS attacks can be prevented just by using the system as a limited user and avoiding use of the administrator account as much as possible.
To implement this with the least hassle, first create a new account that will become your administrator account. Maybe call it by your initials. For example, mine is JMSAdmin.
Log out of your current account then log into as your new admin account. Using the new account, change the account type of your existing account from administrator to limited user.
Once you’ve done that, log out of your admin account and back into your limited user account.
You should find that all of your existing applications and configurations are maintained. You should be able to use your system much like you did before. However, when there is a need to make a system change, such as installing application updates, installing new applications or making system configuration changes, you will not be able to perform these tasks as a limited user.
However, you can launch individual applications with the Run As feature using the credentials of your separate administrator account, or you can switch user logins to temporarily use your administrator one to perform system maintenance tasks. Just be sure to switch back to your limited account once you’ve completed the maintenance tasks.
In addition to operating as a limited user, you also need to install a third-party (i.e., non-Microsoft) anti-malware scanner, anti-spyware scanner and other security tools, such as a firewall or host intrusion detection system (HIDS). There are both open-source and commercial versions of these products.
By taking a few reasonable steps, you can continue to operate Windows XP while interacting with the Internet and still maintain a reasonable level of safety and security.