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Originally published Friday, April 11, 2014 at 3:20 PM

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Anti-virus software a poor Windows XP safety net

The end of Microsoft support for Windows XP means a lack of ongoing security updates, writes Patrick Marshall. Computers still using the operating system are vulnerable in ways anti-virus and anti-malware programs don’t guard against.

Special to The Seattle Times


Q: I have been reading a lot about support ending for Windows XP, but I have one unanswered question. I have Windows XP on my computer, but I am also running an anti-virus program — Avast. So why am I at risk from hackers and other malware if my anti-virus program is running?

— Candis

A: Viruses are only one of the risks computer users face.

Hackers can take advantage of vulnerabilities in your computer to do any number of things you don’t want them doing, such as gaining access to financial information or email lists you have stored on your computer. They may also employ your computer for nefarious purposes, such as sending spam or launching denial-of-service attacks against websites.

Anti-virus software provides no protection against such dangers, nor do anti-malware programs.

Bear in mind, this isn’t just about Windows. Vulnerabilities are continually being discovered in every operating system, including Linux and Apple operating systems. In addition, patches are issued on a regular basis to close those vulnerabilities. That’s what will no longer be done for Windows XP.

And there’s another problem. Hackers and authors of malware often reverse engineer the patches of current versions of Windows to learn about vulnerabilities and then write programs to exploit those vulnerabilities on unpatched systems. And much of the code of Windows XP remains in later versions of Windows.

So as Microsoft issues patches to protect Windows 7 and 8, they will also indirectly be alerting hackers to potential vulnerabilities that may be exploited in Windows XP.

Q: In your Dec. 14 column, you explained how to change the default email program for a Windows 8.1 system. I am running Windows XP Pro, and I have to modify your instructions somewhat to get to the default window.

I select Control Panel, then Internet Options, and finally the Programs tab. This shows my email program as: Microsoft Office Outlook. Other possible options from the drop-down menu are: MSN, Outlook Express, Windows Live Hotmail. None of these now apply!

I am using the CenturyLink email server and accessing it through my Web browser, Internet Explorer.

How do I get this option to show up when I select an email link, particularly from within a website?

— W.W.

A: Because you’re accessing your email through a Web browser, you need to have an add-in for the specific browser that allows you to connect to your CenturyLink email as the default email program. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any add-in for CenturyLink for any browser.

But don’t despair. Your other option is to adopt an email client that is supported and use it to connect to your CenturyLink email account. If you don’t want to spend any money on a client, you can use the Windows Live Mail program that comes with Windows. You’ll find directions for connecting it to your CenturyLink email at

Q: A previous question asked about how to format and burn to a new CD. In your reply you said, “Once you’ve got a blank writable disc in the drive.” Did you mean one needs to use a CD-RW or DVD-RW disc, or can one use a CD-R or DVD-R disc?

— John Reeves

A: The types of discs you can burn to depends upon your drive. Some accept DVD+R and not DVD-R, for example.

Fortunately, most newer CD/DVD drives accept multiple formats, so you may not have to pay attention. In either case, RW indicates the disc is rewritable. That is, you can save and remove files from those discs as if they were flash drives.

If all you want to do is a one-time burn, you can use any compatible type of R disc.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to or, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at


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