Windows 7 End of Support – What do I do now?
This has long been looming over many, mostly over those who were already aware and working in some sort IT desktop support/configuration role. The widely popular and much loved operating system, has now been put bed on January 14th this year, however many are still using Windows 7 on the internet, despite the risks associated with this, whether they are aware of them or not.
I recently uploaded a YouTube video outlining what the end of support means for Windows 7, and what to do next (video link below). However I felt I would write this post for those who would like to read an article on this subject instead, rather than remember it all. This post is mainly aimed at home and small business users rather than larger businesses, as most larger businesses already have some sort of IT support already in place, and hopefully looking to upgrade to Windows 10 if they haven’t already.
What does end of support actually mean?
Bit of an introduction first.
Every operating system out there not just Microsoft operating systems, has a life time attached, usually this 10 years on average, apart from Windows 10 but that is a different kettle of fish. Within this 10 year time frame included is full support from the supplier, updates including security patches, feature updates, platform updates, and cumulative updates the list goes on. These updates are essential to keep your computer secure and running smoothly as it can be, and fix and potential loopholes that could be exploited in your operating system software.
Not only do you get the support mentioned above from the operating system supplier, you will also get support for periphery hardware and any software you wish to install in your computer during this 10 year lifetime. This means any software of hardware devices you buy, will very much be likely to work on your computer without any issues (obviously check the software/hardware before you buy, to make sure you operating system supports it), and if something goes wrong the supplier of that hardware or software will support it without issue.
So end of support?
The manufacturer of the operating system usually announces the end of support date, when the operating system software is released. This is so businesses and home users will know how long this software will be supported for before the plug is pulled so to speak, and your left on your own. On the day the support ends, the operating system, in this case Windows 7, functions and looks exactly the same as it did previously, however one major function will not work. This function is Windows updates. This means your computer will no longer receive any updates at all including security updates, from Microsoft, leaving your computer to become an ever growing security risk as time goes on. You will also receive no support from Microsoft, should you need to contact them in regards to any issues you may have, and neither will your computer manufacturer.
Its not just the operating system supplier that will drop support. Other companies such as Google have dropped support for their applications on Windows 7, such as Chrome. This means you will no longer receive support and updates for Chrome, this will again like the OS leave this open to future exploitation as security bugs are discovered. Device hardware manufacturers such as HP, Epson etc, will drop support for any future products and current products working on Windows 7, so if you buy a new HP Envy Printer for your Windows 7 PC, and it doesn’t work, then don’t go ringing up HP or printer supplier for help. You may be able to get some basic support elsewhere such as on online forums and helpful friends you may have but as they do it for free, don’t expect them help you if they do not wish to assist with a Windows 7 device.
Can I keep using my Windows 7 Computer?
In short, this depends on your environment and whether your Windows 7 computer is connected to the internet or not. The end of support for Windows 7 applies to all Windows 7 editions, regardless of where your Windows 7 PC is located, its use and or if it is used on the internet. If your Windows 7 PC is being using to surf the web or for connecting to the internet in some other way, then you need to upgrade your computer to Windows 10 or other suitable supported operating system, as soon as you can. If your Windows 7 PC is not connected to the internet physically in the long term then you can still use this PC, however please refer to the risks of this below while doing so, to minimise a possible infection.
What are the risks if I keep using Windows 7?
As briefly mentioned above this depends on how Windows 7 is working in your environment. These risks and examples here are not exhaustive as there many situations where different risks may be present. If the Windows 7 PC is isolated already and not physically connected to the internet and network, then initial risk of infection and or exploitation is low. However be aware that if the PC has not been connected to the internet in its lifetime or for a long period of time, this will expose the Windows 7 PC in a weaker state, as there has been none to very little updates and security updates in its lifetime. These could of fixed any possible backdoors or loopholes that could be exploited. This also renders any antivirus you have installed practically useless as it could not of updated its virus definitions.
This means should some dodgy software or and infected media device such a memory stick be plugged into this Windows 7 PC the risk of infection is now very high, more higher than a patched Windows 7 system, and will most likely depending on the malware, could destroy most of the operating system and files. However if this isolated Windows 7 PC has only one primary use and is locked away physically so it cant be tampered with, the risk is quite low.
The risk for an internet connected Windows 7 PC are also quite high, because you are now using an out of date, unsupported, on-going security flawed device to access the internet. This means should a malicious attacker to be able to exploit a loophole in say the out of date Internet Explorer or other software that you use regularly, that isn’t able to be updated, and then further exploit a vulnerability in Windows 7 that cannot be patched, this would potentially open a backdoor for the malicious attacker to cause damage to your computer, steal your identity or hold your files to ransom (remember the headline news on ransomware attack on NHS out of support XP machines?) the list goes on. This is something I am sure you and no one else would want.
If the Windows 7 PC is not actually using the internet, ie; it already has firewall rules to block access, or it hasn’t nothing that you are aware of that accesses the internet, but is connected to your home network, then the risk is medium. The reason for this is that while you may not think the Windows 7 device uses the internet, it still periodically checks for Windows updates, which connects to Microsoft servers on the internet. Other applications installed will check for updates, or call home etc. This means the computer is still at risk like the Windows 7 PC example above that connects to the internet. If the Windows 7 PC has firewall rules to lock down internet access, the risk is low, as the PC can be infected in different methods, similar to those mentioned above.
What do I do now?
Based on the use cases above, you have only a few options.
1. If your Windows 7 computer is on the internet, but you need to keep using your PC for a specific task that doesn’t require the internet, you can disconnect it physically from your network, or if local network access is still needed, make sure your have windows Firewall properly set up to block incoming and outgoing ports 80 and 443 and other potential ports your computer applications may use to access the internet. Alternatively you could block all incoming and outgoing ports other than those you need for local network eg: windows file sharing etc.
2. Upgrade your current Windows 7 computer to Windows 10 if it supports it.
3. Buy a new computer with Windows 10 already installed
Will my computer support an upgrade to Windows 10?
This really depends on what hardware you computer has and how old it is. As baseline, I would suggest anything prior of circa 2009-2010 should be be replaced mainly due to its age, which means hardware internally is unlikely to last much longer. Early 2010’s PCs should be able to upgrade ok to Windows 10, however depending on the hardware specifications, it may not turn out to be the fastest system. Mid 2010’s computers should have no issues upgrading to windows 10 if they don’t already have it installed, and any late 2010′ PC’s should already have Windows 10 on them.
If your PC is pre 2009-2010 and runs Windows 7, however you are unable to afford to buy a new PC, then you will have to make do an use what you have, but it will still need to be upgraded to Windows 10 regardless, if it needs to be used on the internet.