Microsoft Windows 7 – launched in 2009 – came to the end of its supported life on 14th January 2020. Despite Microsoft’s repeated warnings to Windows 7 users, there may still be a couple of hundred million users, many of them in businesses. What should people do next?
To begin with, Windows 7 will not stop working, it will just stop receiving security updates. Users will therefore be more vulnerable to malware attacks, particularly from “ransomware”. We saw how dangerous that can be when WannaCry took over unpatched PCs in the NHS and other places. It was so bad that Microsoft released a patch for XP, even though it was out of support.
There are reasons to be fearful, because of the way the malware industry works.
On the second Tuesday of every month, Microsoft releases security patches that should be installed automatically by Windows Update. The malware industry analyses these patches to find the holes, and then looks for ways to exploit them. A lot of the code in Windows 10 goes back to Windows 7 and earlier versions. As a result, some of the security holes in Windows 10 will also be present in Windows 7, but they won’t be patched.
Malware writers don’t normally target out-of-date operating systems, because they don’t usually have many users. In this case, as with XP, there could be millions of relatively easy targets.
We would urge those using the software after the deadline to replace unsupported devices as soon as possible, to move sensitive data to a supported device and not to use them for tasks like accessing bank and other sensitive accounts.” That’s good advice.
While you can’t patch Windows 7, you can make sure your other software is patched. That applies to browsers in particular. Fortunately, the main browser suppliers will keep updating them, and Google has said: “We will continue to fully support Chrome on Windows 7 for a minimum of 18 months from Microsoft’s end of life date, until at least 15 July 2021.”
Eventually, however, they’ll stop testing their browsers on Windows 7 because it’s expensive and will only serve a shrinking number of users.
If you can’t avoid malware completely, try to avoid untrusted or insecure websites. Major name-brand websites should be reasonably safe, including your bank’s. Sources of free, pirated or “adult” stuff are generally less so. But, sooner or later, your bank will decide that it’s too risky to deal with people who have vulnerable computers, and prevent you from logging on.
Given the risks of running Windows 7, users should plan to replace it as soon as possible
Windows 10 is the best option for most ordinary Windows 7 users. Although it has some additional stuff, Windows 10 still has most of the features of Windows 7, and you can make it look much the same. It will run most, if not all, of your existing software, and you will have to do the least amount of relearning. Decades of Windows experience will still be useful.