Would you believe more than 1% of computers worldwide are still using Windows XP? Incredibly, there are still millions of people using 19-year-old operating system. And a recent development — if it bears out — is another reason people need to make the switch to something newer.
On Thursday, users on 4chan posted what they claimed was the source code of Windows XP.
Posting an image of a screenshot allegedly of the source code in front of Window’s XP iconic Bliss background, one user wrote ‘sooooo Windows XP Source code leaked’. Another Redditor helpfully has uploaded the code as a torrent, assisting in its spread.
While there is no confirmation that this code is definitely Windows XP, independent researchers have begun to pick through the source code and believe it stands up to scrutiny.
The Windows XP SP1 source code leak looks pretty legit
— Greg Linares (@Laughing_Mantis) September 24, 2020
Can you explain what a source code is to me like I’m five?
Let’s use baking as a metaphor for software. Source code is like a recipe that you use to bake a cake.
When you buy a delicious red velvet cake, you only get the finished product and not the recipe (i.e. the source code).
And in the same way that you can’t just look at a cake and figure out how to bake it, you can’t just reverse engineer the source code just because you have the software.
For a variety of reasons, most software is like a black box: you know what it does and roughly how it does it, but the specific details are usually obscured.
The exception to this is open source software, but most proprietary software is closed source.
And why does it matter that Windows XP’s code has been leaked?
There’s a number of reasons why people would like to get their hands on the Windows XP source code.
Firstly, having the source code will allow anyone to create their own variations of Windows XP. Like if you had the recipe for a cake but you thought it was too sweet, this would allow you to change it to how you like it. You want to update XP so it can run with new hardware? Go for it.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it allows people to understand how Windows XP works. Imagine if you had no idea how baking works, then a specific recipe would teach a lot about the concept of baking.
And that could be used for good reasons — like people trying to create Windows emulating software on Macs, for example — but it could also be used for nefarious purposes.
Here’s where the metaphor really breaks down but stay with me: imagine if you wanted to break into a house but you didn’t know how. If you knew they had to open their windows when they baked, that would help you sneak in.
That, if you followed me at all, is how a source code can be used to find an exploit to hack computers or cause other mischief.
And it’s not just for the (admittedly many) Windows XP users left over. Given that Windows operating systems may share code, hypothetically an exploit in Windows XP may still be present in Windows 10.
It still remains to be completely verified, but even still, Windows XP users should beware. But since Microsoft hasn’t supported the operating system for more than half a decade, there’s probably heaps of other unpatched exploits anyway.
So, if you’re reading this on Internet Explorer 8, installed on your Windows XP computer, what are you doing? Upgrade already!