GRAND RAPIDS (WWJ) — Support for Microsoft Windows XP ends April 8, leaving anyone using the operating system open to hackers, malware, security breaches and with no technical support, unless you pay big money for it.

Windows XP is still used on a surprisingly large percentage of the nation’s hardware — 95 percent of ATMs, 96 percent of school computers, and 10 percent of federal computers, including those on classified military and diplomatic networks, according to Grand Rapids tech consultants C/D/H.

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How does that sit with you and your feelings of financial, identity, and homeland security?

“It’s hospitals, schools, government organizations, places where legacy systems run and are connected to the Internet, that are the most vulnerable, and also have the most sensitive information,” C/D/H partner Paul Hillman said. “Or the machine that has run your voicemail for the past 12 years that’s been forgotten, for example. This is fertile ground for a security breach of your network.”

Hillman said C/D/H has advised its clients on switching operating systems, so they can breathe easy. So can others who have been heeding Microsoft’s call to upgrade.

Industry experts are predicting the number of potential threats to XP will grow very quickly and some believe malware authors are building attack programs and saving them until the end of support hits.

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Microsoft warns that an antivirus app is not a foolproof solution to an outdated operating system, saying “our research shows the effectiveness of anti-malware solutions on out-of-date software is limited.”

Still, an estimated 30 percent of all computers connected to the Internet are still running Windows XP, including more than 30 percent of personal computers. And Microsoft is not budging on the April 8 deadline, as one can see from the countdown clock that has been running since July.

Aside from the vulnerabilities of running an unsupported operating system, businesses really can’t afford to not upgrade. According to a white paper sponsored by Microsoft, switching from XP to Windows 8 will save up to $700 per employee each year in decreased downtime, boot time, and IT costs, yielding an ROI of 137 percent in three years. In addition, businesses looking to arm themselves with the power of mobility and compatible software applications need to make the switch.

And for those looking to upgrade, but unsure of making the leap to Windows 8, Windows 7 will be supported until 2020, when the next operating system “apocalypse” is expected to occur.

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C/D/H is a technology consulting firm that has served clients across Michigan for more than 20 years. The firm has offices in Detroit and Grand Rapids, from which it consults in collaboration, infrastructure, unified communications, mobility, and project management. C/D/H is a Microsoft-certified Gold Partner, a VMware Professional Partner, and has earned top certification with Novell, Citrix, and Cisco Systems. More at