Microsoft has warned Windows XP users against using a hack that tricks the company’s servers into applying security patches to the now-unsupported operating system.
The workaround first appeared on a forum website called Sebijk, which revealed how making a small change in XP's registry will fool Microsoft’s upgrade servers into thinking they are applying security patches to newer versions of Windows.
However, Microsoft has stressed that XP users exploiting the hack may encounter various problems and would not be fully protected.
In a statement to V3 Microsoft said: “The security updates that could be installed are intended for Windows Embedded and Windows Server 2003 customers and do not fully protect Windows XP customers.
"Windows XP customers also run a significant risk of functionality issues with their machines if they install these updates, as they are not tested against Windows XP.”
It is not clear how long the update hack will remain usable now that Microsoft is aware of its existence.
Microsoft said that XP users who are concerned about the security and functionality of their PCs should upgrade to a newer and supported version of Windows: “The best way for Windows XP customers to protect their systems is to upgrade to a more modern operating system, like Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.”
Updates and security support for Windows XP became a major concern earlier this year when Microsoft withdrew its support for the 13-year-old operating system.
But Windows XP is still widely used by people and organisations that are unable or unwilling to upgrade to newer versions. It is estimated that around 430 million PCs still use a version of XP.
The scale of XP use and the extent of concerns over its support were highlighted earlier this spring when the UK government struck a deal with Microsoft, worth £5.5m, to extend XP support in the public sector for another year.
Business and personal users keen to stick with XP have either had to exploit various hacks and workarounds or gamble with the safety of their operating system.
Microsoft recently made an exception to its decision not to support XP and issued a patch for a security flaw in Internet Explorer. Yet security experts have still advised XP users to switch to alternative browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.