Obsolete Windows 7 and Associated Security Implications

Windows 7 is one of the best products that Microsoft has ever released.

The much-adored operating system (OS) impressed users who detested the disappointing Windows Vista. Windows 7 remained a much better option than Windows 8. However, despite its popularity, after 10 years, support for Windows 7 officially ended on 14th January 2020. The decision was made as part of a planned effort to phase out Windows 7 software and migrate Windows users to Windows 10. Although Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) will continue to receive signature updates after January 14, 2020, the MSE platform is no longer being updated. In addition, while your PC will still keep operating, Microsoft will no longer be supporting or publishing important security updates as well as general bug and exploit fixes.

The above can have serious security implications for anyone still running Windows 7 on their PC, which will become very susceptible to all kinds of malware programs and viruses. Without continuing support and security fixes, organisations’ and consumers’ PCs will be exposed to cyber-attacks by both existing malware and hackers as well as future attacks which will take advantage of unknown vulnerabilities in Windows 7. Unsupported Windows 7 affects industries such as manufacturing even more considering that they depend on embedded devices using the OS that cannot easily be updated, exposing networks to attacks. For instance, a malware could essentially result in IoT devices malfunctioning, potentially hurting staffs on the manufacturing floor, disrupting production, and leaking sensitive and private data.

Despite all the security risks, many organisations and consumers are still using Windows 7 as it is still a popular choice. In extreme cases, some organisations are yet to upgrade past Windows Vista and Windows XP even though they reached end of support 7 and 10 years ago respectively. There are various reasons why some businesses have not yet upgraded from Windows 7. These can include the fact that their existing software cannot run on the newest versions of OS, economic reasons, the time required to transition to Windows 10, or just habit and preferences. Whatever your reason is, you can still take certain steps to keep your Windows 7 PC as safe as possible. To this end, you might consider the following tips:

Keeping your antivirus software up to date: while Windows 7 provides some built-in security protections, you should also have a third-party antivirus software installed to avoid malware attacks and other problems (The majority of antivirus vendors have not yet ended support for Windows 7 devices). This becomes even more important in the case of newer types of cyberattacks such as WannaCry ransomware attack, which struck hospitals, schools and businesses worldwide. According to a report released by the security firm “Kaspersky Lab”, 98% of PCs infected by the WannaCry, which encrypted the files on more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries and demanded victims pay ransom of at least $300, were running Windows 7. Thus, it is highly likely that attackers will focus even more attention on exploiting the vulnerability in an outdated Windows 7.

Using a virtual private network (VPN): a VPN will keep your data encrypted and can create a private and secure network between your device and the websites you browse by providing a private connection and thus concealing your activities.

Channing Windows Firewall settings: to prevent malicious software from running on your Windows 7 machine, you can whitelist applications that you consider safe and block those that are unsafe. This can be done under Windows Firewall on your PC.

Avoiding Internet Explorer: The vast majority of malware is delivered through browser vulnerabilities. Now that Microsoft has ended support for Windows 7 as well as Internet Explorer, even more malware attacks will be aimed at Windows 7. So, avoid using an unsecure browser on an unsecure OS. Top browser vendors such as Google Chrome, Opera and Mozilla
Firefox still support Windows 7. So, it is a good idea to switch to one of these options and enable automatic updates.

Utilising a password Manager: You can also use a password manager to assist you in creating robust passwords for your accounts and keeping track of them.

Securing the hatches: Avoid using an administrator account as it provides the attackers with the keys to your computing environment. Instead, use a standard account for daily activities. By doing so, you can ensure that if your machine is infected by malware, it can only damage the account it infects. Use the admin account only to create the locked-down login and provide it with the software you need.

Using virtualisation: If you still need legacy Windows 7 for certain applications, you can create a virtual machine (VM) on a supported OS such as Ubuntu 18.04.4 LTS, OS macOS 10.15 Catalina or Windows 10, and run Windows 7 in the VM. If you VM becomes infected, you can just delete it and build a new one without compromising your main installation.

Disconnecting your PC from the Internet: In extreme case, you can even physically disconnect your Windows 7 PC from the Internet or disable Wi-Fi.

Conclusion

Although Windows 7 did not support the latest AMD, Intel and Qualcomm chipsets and have compatibility with Windows Store, it was an excellent OS while it was supported. However, with no further security updates and exploit fixes, it will be exposed to many security threats. So, if you are a Windows user and are still running Windows 7, it is vital that you upgrade to Windows 10 so as to mitigate security risks and avoid exposing your sensitive files and data to viruses. While you can move your existing programs to a new Windows 10 PC, it is better to do a fresh installation of your programs and apps on your new Windows 10 PC for the best possible experience. To this end, Microsoft Store provides a wide range of third-party apps that can be easily downloaded and installed. If for some reasons you still wish to use Windows 7, the tips provided in this article can assist you in continuing with Windows 7 for longer. However, using an obsolete and unsecured OS will be attracting even more malicious activities. So, start planning for your future options, which can be switching to a free distribution of Linux, Windows 10 upgrade, or purchasing a new Windows machine. This is our fundamental recommendation. Remember, that in the long term, the cost of dealing with a cyber security incident can be substantially higher than the cost of upgrading. With no security updates and a still-vast market share, Microsoft’s OSs are attractive targets for attackers. You would not want to be caught off guard when the next disastrous malware emerges.

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