Fifty-nine vulnerabilities, or do you feel safe using Windows XP?

In today’s Microsoft Security Bulletin release was a very long list of vulnerabilities fixed in Internet Explorer. A very long list. 59 separate vulnerabilities to be exact. I do believe that is a record.

But I’m not here to talk about the record — I am more interested in the steps Windows XP users will take to mitigate the flaws, because Microsoft are not patching any of these vulnerabilities for Windows XP! Some people I’ve talked to, from individuals up to enterprises, seem to have the idea that they’ll practice “Safe Computing” and be able to continue using Windows XP and avoid paying for an upgrade.

What do I mean by Safe Computing? Y’know, don’t open strange attachments, use an alternate web browser, view emails with images switched off, keep antivirus and malware protection software up to date, remove unused applications, disable unwanted features, firewalls, mail and web proxies, so on and so forth.

So let’s look at what the repercussions are of practicing Safe Computing in light of these disclosures.

The first mitigation you are going to take is, obviously, to stop using Internet Explorer. With this many holes, you are clearly not going to be able to use Internet Explorer at all. This means a loss of functionality, though: those Internet Explorer-optimised sites (I’m looking at you, just about every corporate intranet) often don’t even work with non-IE browsers. So if you have to use IE to view these ‘trusted’ sites, you must ensure you never click on an external link, or you will be exposed again. Doable, but certainly a hassle.

Okay, so you don’t use IE now. You use Firefox, or Chrome. But you’re still in trouble, because it turns out that the very next security bulletin announces that GDI+ and Uniscribe are both vulnerable as well, today. GDI+ is used to display images and render graphics in Windows, and Uniscribe is used by just about every application to draw text onto the screen, including all the major web browsers. The Uniscribe flaw relates to how it processes fonts. The GDI+ flaw relates to a specific metafile image format.

So, disable support for downloadable fonts in your browser, and disable those specific metafile image types in the Windows Registry. Yes, it can be done. Now you’ll be all good, right? You don’t need those fonts, or those rare image types, do you? You can still surf the web okay?

But you’ve lost functionality, which we might not value all that highly, but it’s still a trade-off you’ve had to make.

From today, every security flaw that is announced will force you to trade more functionality for security.

And this is my point. From today, and on into the future, every security flaw that is announced will force you to trade yet more functionality for security. Eventually, you will only be able to use Windows XP offline — it simply will not be possible to safely access Internet resources without your computer and your data being compromised. It’s going to get worse from here, folks. It is well and truly past time to upgrade.

Only 21? Do you feel safe yet?

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