Security risks will be rife when Microsoft ends support for its much-used Windows XP operating system on April 8th. Experts believe End of Support (EoS) will coincide with an influx of attacks that take advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities, such as zero-day exploits.

And it’s not just Windows XP that’s going to be vulnerable: Microsoft applications could be compromised, as many third-party apps running on XP will no longer be supported by the vendors that make them.

It's therefore important that anti-virus is kept up to date - and on top of this, you should be testing and monitoring your networks. If only a few of your PCs are running XP, it is a good idea to isolate them from the network so if there is an attack, only one machine is compromised.

Support for XP

However, not everyone is pulling XP support immediately: many security vendors will still offer products such as anti-virus for the operating system post-8th April.

Depending on the vendor, some of these products will be around for the next three or four years. Many others will extend support for at least one year.

Microsoft itself also announced in January that it will still support its free package, Security Essentials, on XP until 2015. This means the firm will supply anti-malware signatures, but it does not mitigate the risks entirely. Additionally, users will not be able to download and install Security Essentials after 8th April.

For how long will XP be safe?

As the underlying operating system becomes less secure, the longer you leave it, the less reliable XP will get.

Simply running anti-virus is not the answer: there is no telling how long XP will be safe. Upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8 with the help of companies such as Dell is cheaper, quicker and more efficient than doing it on your own - and it ensures your SMB stays secure.