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Windows XP support cut-off could lead to spam boom

04 Feb 2014
Microsoft Windows XP screen

The end of Windows XP could lead to a marked increase in global spam levels, according to security firm Sophos.

Paul Ducklin, senior security analyst at Sophos, told V3 that Microsoft's support cut-off in April will inevitably lead to security issues, while discussing the company's latest Dirty Dozen spam report.

"If you keep using XP as your general operating system after the cut-off, you won't get security fixes, which of course means you are more likely to get owned and infected with malware. This means you could unintentionally become part of the spam problem," he said.

"I don't want to 100 percent say this is inevitable, but it is certainly a very real possibility. The lack of support is going to make XP users harder to defend and crooks know it. Think about when Microsoft issues its first series of patches for Windows 7 and Windows 8 after XP support ends. In this situation a patch for Windows 7 could very well point criminals to the magic hole in Windows XP."

Ducklin told V3 that the continuing use of XP will inevitably impact on the wider business community and could be a consequence of companies' ongoing lax attitudes towards security.

"Microsoft is desperate to get individual users and businesses off XP and for good reason. I mean think about it, there have been multiple new releases since XP all of which are far more secure, but people are still saying, ‘No thank you, I'll stick with this decade-old OS.' If Microsoft can't get rid of XP after over 10 years, we're not going to get rid of spam."

Ducklin added that once hackers compromise users' machines, they could use them for operations other than spamming. "Spam is further proof cybercrime is a global problem. The spamming machines aren't owned by the hackers, they're infected computers owned by innocent people," he said. "The troubling thing is if they [criminals] can use these machines to send spam at the levels they currently are, what else can they do with them?"

Sophos revealed a rise in global spam levels in its latest threat report. The report showed that the US is still the biggest source of spam, listing it as accounting for 14.5 percent of total spam sent in Q4 2013. China and Russia came in second and third place, speaking for 8.2 percent and 5.5 percent of all spam during the period respectively. Ducklin said the UK came nineteenth, accounting for 1.6 percent of all spam during the quarter.

The report's findings mirror those of numerous other security vendors. Russian security firm Kaspersky reported that roughly three quarters of the world's email traffic during December 2013 was spam.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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