SAN FRANCISCO (USA Today) - After April 8, running a computer with Windows XP will be like turning on your house's security system but leaving the doors and windows open.
That's the analogy Gerry Egan, senior director of product management for anti-virus company Symantec, uses.
"Imagine you're living in a house. Every night before you go to bed you go around to make sure the doors are locked and the windows are closed. And maybe you've got an alarm system for extra piece of mind," he said from the company's offices in Culver City, Calif.
But your landlord isn't keeping up with repairs. The lock on the front door doesn't work any more and some of the windows won't close.
"The security system will detect somebody coming through the windows and it will call in the alarm and stop the intruder," said Egan. "But you really want to fix the windows and the doors."
All the big consumer antivirus companies say the same thing: They'll keep their security software for customers running Windows XP up to date for the foreseeable future. But people really, really, really should buy a new computer and upgrade to a newer operating system.
Windows XP was first released in 2001 and Microsoft will stop supporting it on April 8. No more updates, no more Microsoft technical support. And no more security patches.
That, say experts, is the thing consumers most need to worry about.
Most people running Windows XP are comfortable with the program and see no need to upgrade. They probably don't use a lot of tech support because, frankly, they've been doing it so long they don't need help.
But as of April 8 the locks on their doors and windows are going to start failing.
Here's why: All operating systems have bugs in them. Any piece of software that big and that powerful is bound to. Microsoft's programmers know this and keep track of bugs as they are found.
On the second Tuesday of every month, Microsoft releases a security patch for all the bugs found in the previous month. This bit of software fixes those bugs. Depending on their setup, consumers either have to update their own computers or, in some cases, the patch is automatically "pushed out" to their computer via the internet.
On Tuesday, April 8, the Microsoft security patch will no longer cover Windows XP.
The landlord will have officially stopped fixing broken windows and doors.
That's a problem for the estimated 30% of computer users who still run Windows XP as their computer's operating system.
It gets worse. Windows XP has places where its code is similar to Windows 7 and Windows 8, Microsoft's newer operating systems. Some of the bugs discovered in those programs will also exist in Windows XP.
So each Tuesday, when Microsoft publishes the security patch, it will tip off hackers worldwide exactly where to look for holes in Windows XP.
"Imagine you're a bad guy. Think of it as a monthly newsletter, it's almost like a list of broken windows sent to you," said Egan.
That's why consumers really, really, really should think about upgrading to a new computer and operating system. Most machines running Windows XP are too old and too slow to run newer PC operating systems like Windows 8.
The good news for consumers is that computers capable of running the newer systems today can cost as little as $400.
For those who aren't quite ready to take the leap, popular security companies say they'll keep doing what they can. But start saving for that new computer now.
Norton Symantec sells one-year subscriptions to its security software under the Norton . Customers who buy a subscription now will get a year's worth of coverage. The company will continue to support XP users for at least that time, but Egan couldn't commit to past that.
"We can run interference and we'll block lots, and maybe most of, attacks. But we just want our customers understand that the real fix is to fix the door," said Egan.
McAfee says that while its security program "does not inherently stop vulnerabilities, it does make exploitation of those vulnerabilities significantly more difficult, if not impossible." The company is clear that "only a patch could truly fix the code." However it says, "potential breaches can be protected in a way that vastly reduces the risk of an attacker being able to make use of them."
The support "will continue through at least 2015," said spokeswoman Melinda Jenkins.
Kaspersky Lab security solutions will continue to protect Windows XP systems beyond the Microsoft cut-off date, in accordance with Kaspersky Lab's scheduled product life cycles. During this period of extended support, Kaspersky Lab products installed on Windows XP machines will continue to receive the latest malware signature updates.
Kaspersky Lab says the "extension of our support should provide ample time for these customers to migrate to a modern operating system."
This free antivirus software has created security protection modules and detections specifically designed to cover Windows XP vulnerabilities and other security problems. Its 2014 version is tailored for older machines still running Windows XP.
Elizabeth Weise, USA Today