Ransomware known as WannaCrypt (aka WCry, WannaCry) has already crippled as many as 75,000 unpatched Windows computers in Europe and Asia. So far it hasn’t done much damage in North America, but that could change quickly.
The flaw WannaCrypt uses to infect Windows computers was patched by Microsoft in March, but unpatched computers and those running unsupported versions of Windows were left unprotected.
Microsoft has long since stopped releasing security updates for Windows XP, but WannaCrypt is spreading quickly, and Windows XP computers are essentially defenseless against it. So Microsoft has taken the unprecedented step of publicly releasing an update that protects Windows XP computers from the flaw that WannaCrypt uses to spread.
If you manage any computers that run Windows XP, you should install the update immediately: download update for 32-bit Windows XP Service Pack 3. There’s more information about this from Microsoft.
Techdirt points out that the flaw WannaCrypt exploits was exposed in the recent NSA tool leaks. Which is exactly the problem when security organizations hoard flaws instead of reporting them responsibly.
Update 2017May14: Apparently a security researcher at MalwareTech registered a (previously unregistered) domain used by WannaCrypt as part of his investigation into the ransomware. This is standard practice, because it often allows researchers to gain a better understanding of their subject. Surprisingly, this move stopped WannaCrypt from doing any further damage.
The latest guidance from NCSC.
A major change to the internal workings of Firefox should result in faster web page rendering on most Windows computers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include Windows XP: starting with version 53.0, Firefox no longer supports XP or Vista.
Firefox 53.0 also fixes at least twenty-nine security issues, so it’s a good idea to update it as soon as possible. Firefox can be rather sluggish about updating itself, but you can usually trigger an update by clicking the menu icon at the top right (three horizontal lines), then the little question mark icon, then
Also in the new release are some improvements to Firefox’s user interface, including two new ‘compact’ themes that free up some screen space. Site permission prompts are now somewhat easier to understand and more difficult to miss. Tab titles that are too long to fit in a tab now fade out at the end instead of being cut off and replaced by ellipses, which makes more of the truncated title visible.
Opera is now the only major web browser that still supports Windows XP and Vista. If you’re still using either of those operating systems and browse the web, you should definitely stop using Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, and switch to Opera. Browsing the web is dangerous enough without the added risk of using a browser that has known security vulnerabilities that will never be fixed.
Note that the most recent Opera version that supports Windows XP and Vista is 36. It wasn’t easy to find older versions on the Opera web site, but I eventually found a page that allows you to download any version by platform.
A recent update to Opera 36 addresses security issues that are specific to XP and Vista. The announcement doesn’t mention the actual new version number, but based on my research, it seems to be 36.0.2130.65.
If you’re using Opera on XP or Vista, make sure you install the new version. It should update itself automatically, but you can also download Opera 36.0.2130.65 directly.
I’ve tried to locate release notes for the new version, with no luck. According to the announcement, several security fixes previously applied to later versions were back-ported to Opera 36.
Google recently announced that they will no longer support Chrome running on Windows XP after April, 2016. Chrome will still run on Windows XP, but Google won’t address any new security issues in Chrome that don’t affect newer versions of Windows.
Standard advice to anyone still running Windows XP has included avoiding Internet Explorer in favour of a browser that’s still being updated, like Chrome. After next April, Chrome will be potentially as risky to use on XP as Internet Explorer.
Recognizing that millions of people are still using Windows XP, Google has extended support for that O/S in their web browser. That means they will continue to develop fixes for security issues in Chrome running on Windows XP. Anyone still using Windows XP is strongly encouraged to stop using Internet Explorer, which is no longer supported by Microsoft, and use Google Chrome instead.
VLC is one of the most popular media players; it’s cross-platform, and has a reputation for being able to play almost any kind of media. Given its popularity, unpatched vulnerabilities in VLC are likely to make attractive targets to malicious hackers.
Two vulnerabilities in VLC, CVE-2014-9597 and CVE-2014-9598, have yet to be acknowledged by VLC’s developers. Both are memory corruption bugs that can allow attackers to execute arbitrary commands on target systems.
Note that these vulnerabilities only affect VLC running on Windows XP, and only FLV and M2V files.
If you use VLC, you should exercise extreme caution when playing media from sources not known to be safe.
As of April 8, 2014, Oracle is no longer supporting the use of Java on Windows XP. Java 7 can still be installed on Windows XP, and Java 7 updates installed on Windows XP will probably work as expected, but Oracle says you’re on your own if bad things happen. Java 8 will refuse to install on Windows XP.
Recommendation: if you still have computers running Windows XP, stop using Java on those computers.
Update 2014Jul18: Oracle recently posted a clarification, saying that Java issues affecting only Windows XP will not be addressed with updates. Java issues affecting Windows XP as well as other versions of Windows will get updates, and those updates will work as expected on Windows XP.
Edit 2014Jul18: fixed two typos in the first paragraph.
Despite its initial growth spurt, it looks like people are staying away from Windows 8.x in droves. The latest stats show little to no change in the number of Windows 8.x installs in the last month. Windows XP’s recent slide, no doubt due to the end of its support, has also leveled out. As things stand, Windows XP use is roughly double that of Windows 8.x.
Microsoft may have have thrown in the towel on Windows 8.x. They recently announced that the Start menu won’t reappear in Windows 8.x, but will be included in Windows 9, which is giving those of us who advised against switching to Windows 8 an excuse to say ‘I told you so.’
Someone recently discovered that it’s possible to trick Windows Update into providing updates for Windows XP.
Recall that even though Microsoft has stopped issuing updates for Windows XP to the general public, they are actually still developing updates – for paying customers.
The trick for obtaining updates for Windows XP involves changing a setting in Windows that makes Windows Update think that it’s actually running a variant of Windows XP that’s still supported, namely ‘POSReady 2009’.
There are all kinds of problems with this, starting with the likelihood that Microsoft will find a way to stop it. In short, if you’re desperate to keep running Windows XP and you want to install the available updates, and you’re willing to take the risk of totally messing up your system, it might be worth a try. But I seriously cannot recommend it.
Update 2014Jun04: For those of you who can’t resist the temptation to try this, the procedure is outlined in this betanews.com blog post.
Ars Technica’s monthly look at browser and O/S usage concludes by predicting that at the current rate of change, Windows XP use will remain significant for another two years.