Using Windows 7 is risky

Is your business still exposed by Windows 7?

Windows 7 reached End of Life in January 2020. The term “end of life” is commonly used by software vendors to indicate that a product is no longer viable. By this, they mean two things. One, it is no longer practical for them to support a software platform that is more than ten years old and was never designed to cope with modern devices and features demanded by consumers. Secondly, and more importantly, the software can no longer be patched to reliably defend against more sophisticated attacks from malicious and criminal sources.

The most significant impact from a product going “end of life” is that critical updates for security exposures are no longer supplied. Similarly, feature updates are no longer published, meaning that it may not be possible to successfully install new hardware and application software.

For the purpose of this blog, I will concentrate on the security issues related to maintaining a Windows 7 platform on your computer.

Windows 7 was first released in October 2009, that is almost 12 years ago at the time of writing this article. Mainstream support ended in 2015 and extended support in January 2020. By contrast, the first version of Windows 10 was released in July 2015. In between, two versions of Windows 8 were released and these, too, are no longer supported.

Towards the end of 2020, the worldwide installation base for Windows 7 was still around 25%. Not much has changed since. In the absence of further security support, this large installation base of unpatched Windows 7 is very attractive to cyber-criminals who are concentrating greater efforts on directed attacks. So, what do these attacks mean to your business?

Most serious cyber attacks are directed at extracting money from the victim. Attack vectors such as ransomware and data theft are high on the priority list of criminals and unpatched software gives these criminals a very significant advantage. The consequence for your business may be devastating, possibly terminal.

So what’s the solution?

Get off Windows 7! Also get off Windows 8 and 8.1. Any perceived cost saving by remaining on old software platforms is simply not worth the risk. The risk is real!

Update to a modern operating system. For most of us, that is Windows 10. At the time of writing, Windows 10 has received several generational updates since its 2015 release and is currently at version 21H1.

In Microsoft’s words:

“Windows 10 offers robust security features, enhanced performance, and flexible management to keep your employees productive and secure.”

Your business data is one of your most important assets, so I would go one step further and suggest that these security features are absolutely critical to keep your business data more secure.

The most important aspect of Windows 10 is that it is supported by Microsoft and continues to receive critical security updates.

Also, importantly, Windows 10 supports modern devices and will become essential as updates to your favourite business applications discontinue support for older, less secure and less feature rich, versions of Windows.

What’s involved in upgrading to Windows 10?

The answer to this is “that depends”.

It is now six years since Windows 10 was released. Although Windows 7 was available with a new computer for a few years after the release of newer versions of Windows, most business computers with Windows 7 will be at least six years old. Some may be nearly 11 years old. For older computers, in particular, some hardware features may no longer be supported. Similarly, manufacturer support for older peripheral devices, such as printer drivers, may not be available for Windows 10.

Obviously, very old computers should be considered to have completed their tour of duty and should be honourably discharged. It is just not cost effective to try and load contemporary software on old hardware. At the very least, productivity will be adversely affected. In these cases, a new computer is the clear answer.

For what were very high end workstations, purchased within the last five years, the decision may be less clear. It may be possible to install Windows 10 on older computers but, at a minimum, a new SSD and possibly more RAM would be highly recommended to cope with the demands of new applications. Rule of thumb dictates that the cost of the upgrade and additional or replacement hardware will approach half the cost of a new, modern computer and may, at best, buy another two years of service. There is simply no way to turn an old dog into a puppy.

Regardless of the upgrade path chosen, the critical message to take from this article is that Windows 7 is not a secure platform to be entrusted with protecting your business. Retaining Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 for that matter, is risky and potentially costly.

Upgrade now.

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