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May 4, 2014

New bug attacks Internet; AOL gets hacked

NORMAN — It had to happen, and now, it has: the first unfixable security flaw that attacks users of Microsoft’s outdated Windows XP operating system has hit the Internet with a vengeance. The official word from Microsoft? “Too bad for you; you were warned.”

If you have read this column for any length of time, or paid attention to the news for the past six weeks or so, then you know that Microsoft dropped support for its Windows XP operating system on April 8.

The consequences of that lack of support are dire: no more patches, no more security updates and no more bug fixes. As of April 8, it was no longer safe to put a Windows XP computer on the Internet. The same holds true for users of Microsoft Office 2003 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), and versions of Office prior to that.

Microsoft had been warning people about the coming death of XP for two years. I first warned readers of the danger in November and December of last year, and again on March 23.

The story has been repeatedly told by all major news outlets. In spite of all that, estimates are that up to 25 percent of all Windows-based computers in the world are still using Windows XP. Now, those who ignored the warnings are in big trouble.

The problem relates to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and the way it uses Adobe’s Flash Player multimedia software. The Internet bad guys discovered a serious flaw in the way those two programs function together and turned it into a way to control people’s computers, with those people being none the wiser.

The problem is so bad that the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert, warning people to stop using Internet Explorer and use a different browser, such as Mozilla Firefox.

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