This week saw the arrival of Windows XP’s EOL date, yet many are holding onto it, and on occasion, even older systems still. How do you convince a stubborn family member that updating their unsupported system to a newer, more secure one is in their best interest?

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader marczellm is looking for help in convincing a stubborn family member to upgrade their old (and possibly compromised) system:

The situation I face is a family member whose position is the following:

  • I do not want to update something that works because updates may break something. Look at our old computer that runs Windows 98. I have been using it every day for everything for 15 years now and it works without any problem, even though there is absolutely no anti-virus or anything.

Using the same reasoning, he strongly resisted installing any updates or service packs on his other computer running Windows XP, and now that XP is dead, I cannot even imagine how he will react to the choice of either:

  • Buying several copies of Windows 7 for his computers for serious money, or
  • Switching to Linux and basically relearning how to use computers from scratch

What facts can I use to convince them that it is bad if the computer is infected with malware, even if they do not notice anything wrong?

What can marczellm do in order to convince his family member that upgrading for personal security and system stability is a good idea?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors Frank Thomas and Mejwell have the answer for us. First up, Frank Thomas:

The best and least refutable argument is, that if you have nothing else to protect, you have your reputation.

If your account starts sending virus spam, you have to answer to everyone in your address book.

If the FBI starts asking why your PC engaged in a coordinated DDOS attack on a bank’s website (because you got enrolled in the Zeus botnet), you have to let them sift through all your personal artifacts to (hopefully) prove you are not a cyber-criminal suitable for imprisonment for 30+ years. Or worse yet, someone used your computer as a proxy for downloading child pornography, stealing and selling credit card data, or selling drugs on the Silk Road.

Everyone has their reputation (and potentially their freedom) to protect. Emphasizing that is one of the more effective ways to teach people (patching) religion. Just an investigation on some of these topics is enough to show up in background checks, which can follow you the rest of your life.

Followed by the answer from Mejwell:

The best way to explain to non-technical people is via an analogy, and this is analogous to keeping information in a shoebox on your open windowsill. It depends on your behavior whether or not the information in the shoebox is worth taking, or whether anyone will end up taking it, but the fact remains that anyone that has a half a mind to do so easily can.

There are many reasons beyond those listed here by Frank Thomas and Mejwell for why using an up-to-date system is a good idea when it comes to maintaining your personal security. There is no need to extend an open invitation to trouble when it can be avoided with a little bit of prudence and care. Make sure to check out the lively discussion via the original thread link below!

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
Read Full Bio »