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Windows 7 a security risk

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Hundreds of millions of Windows 7 computers became vulnerable to cyber-attacks after Microsoft ended support for its popular operating system on January 14.

The end of support means Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for the 11-year-old operating system.

Technology writer Ed Bott estimated about 19 percent of more than a billion computers running Windows were still using Windows 7 after support ended. One of the UK’s leading enterprise IT websites IT Pro suggested it was almost double Bott’s estimate at 36 percent.

“If you continue to use Windows 7 after support has ended on January 14, 2020, your PC will still work, but it may become more vulnerable to security risks,” Microsoft said in a post.

A high percentage of the Windows 7 machines still in use will be in small and medium sized businesses, many without on-site technology staff in the loop about the end of Windows 7 support.

Windows 7 machines can either be upgraded to Windows 10, providing they meet the minimum requirements, or be replaced with new models with Windows 10 pre-installed.

The minimum requirements for Windows 10 are a 1 gigahertz or faster processor, 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for a 32 bit processor or 2 GB of RAM for a 64 bit processor, 16 GB of hard drive space for 32 GB processors and 32 GB of hard drive space for 64 bit processors, and DirectX9 graphics card or later with Windows Display Driver Mode 1.0 driver with a minimum 800×600 display.

Business users also have the option of opting into Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates for up to three years. Prices start at US$25 per machine per year and double each year. The idea behind this offer is to give large corporations with hundreds or thousands of machines time to finalise their upgrade plans. But it will only delay the inevitable. Microsoft would prefer businesses to upgrade.

Some businesses, with a history of light usage, may opt for Apple iPads or Android tablets. Some will switch to Apple Macs, but the majority are likely to remain on PC, especially if they rely on legacy software for their business.

Those who remain on Windows 7 are putting their passwords and business critical data at risk.

“Users reluctant to upgrade to Windows 10 are playing into the hands of cyber criminals who unleashed nearly 68 million strains of Windows malware (malicious software) in 2018.”

Computer Emergency Response Team operations manager Declan Ingram said it was important computer software was up to date and fit for the modern environment.

“Updating systems can be a fine balance for organisations. There are cost and security aspects that need to be balanced by the business,” he said.

Read Cert NZ’s top 11 cyber security tips for your business at https://www.cert.govt.nz.

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David Hallett

David Hallett is a co-founder and director of Hamilton software specialist Company-X

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