Windows 7 No Longer Safe to Use in 2020 - Here's Why

John Lister's picture

January 2020 marks the end of extended support for Windows 7 from Microsoft. This means Windows 7 users have just one year left to upgrade to either Windows 8 or 10 (or an alternative), before their systems become a major security risk.

Support for Windows 7 comes in a two-stage process. The first is known as mainstream support, which means the system is under warranty and Microsoft offers free technical support over the phone and its online forums. During this time, Microsoft also continues developing new features, and users can get hot fixes which patch any performance or security problems.

During the second phase, known as "extended support," Microsoft only patches security flaws and significant performance glitches - but it also stops offering free technical support for the operating system. (Source: bt.com)

Ten Year Schedule In Play

The general pattern is that mainstream support lasts for five years, followed by five years of extended support. The Windows 7 support period will actually work out between three and six months longer than that, depending on how you count its release date (whether it's to manufacturers or retailers).

The big thing to note is that once extended support ends, Microsoft's official policy is to no longer patch security issues. That means if hackers and other cybercriminals find a security flaw in the operating system, they'll effectively have free reign to exploit it.

This is a massive security problem. Here's why -

It's estimated that one third of all Windows PCs are running Windows 7. In some cases that's down to people not bothering to upgrade, while others users either didn't like the significant changes in the user interface of Windows 8 and then Windows 10, or their machines aren't best suited to an upgrade. (Source: statcounter.com)

If a Windows 7 system becomes infected with malware, it could become part of a botnet. In this case, thousands or hundreds of thousands machines can be used to propagate viruses or crash websites (as an example). In other severe cases, an unpatched Windows 7 machine could be infected with ransomware, then spread the ransomware through a network an infect other machines.

Microsoft Could Come Under Pressure

This all means that Microsoft faces a tough choice. If there's a large proportion of people running Windows 7 without security support, that translates to a large number of unpatched PCs that could be controlled by malware. In turn, Microsoft could get the blame, whether or not patching the unsupported systems seems "unfair".

It's reminiscent of a similar situation with Windows XP where users were reluctant to upgrade for various reasons including its successor Vista being unpopular and a global financial downturn putting people off "unnecessary" spending. The truth of the matter is that Windows XP is quite possibly the most dangerous operating system on the planet and is easily infected by malware, making it incredibly dangerous to operate.

Microsoft was so concerned about unprotected Windows XP computers that it delayed the ending of extended support until two years after the expected deadline. That created something of a chicken-and-egg situation where it didn't want to cut security patches while so many people were running XP, but people running XP felt less pressure to upgrade while it was still supported.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you still run Windows 7? If so, would losing security patches persuade you to make the upgrade? Do you expect Microsoft to delay the deadline if a lot of people are still using the system?

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Comments

PseudoGeek's picture

I just discovered that a properly licensed Windows 7 machine can still upgrade to 10 for free. MS discontinued their disastrous stupid auto upgrade app that forced Windows 10 onto machines and caused much havoc, but you can still upgrade for free as of January 2019. Here's the link to download the installer: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10 then click on the Download Tool Now button. Choose whether you want to upgrade just the machine you're using, or to put the installation package onto a USB stick so you can upgrade multiple machines with a single download. I did the former on an ancient laptop (a 6 year old low-end Toshiba L755-55154 Black Friday loss leader with a low end Sandy Bridge processor), and it worked great.

I believe that after you have Windows 10 installed, it automatically finds your Windows 7 license and uses that, because it didn't bug me for a license key. However, as a backup, I ran Belarc Advisor before upgrading, which gives me the license keys for every piece of software on the machine. With that printed out, I can enter it if needed.

On ye olde laptop, I intend to bring the memory up from 4 GB to 8 and clone the hard drive to a new SSD, then put the original HD away for safe keeping and do a clean install of Windows 10 on the SSD using Settings - Update and Security - Recovery - Reset. (I have backups of the personal data.) Since the license is tied to the machine, it should let me do that once the SSD is swapped in as the installed drive. (I Also replaced the keyboard for $13, since some keys weren't working.)

At that point, I should have a laptop that, while not suitable for heavy lifting, can serve certain needs well for a few more years for an investment of just $112. If it goes as well as I anticipate, I might look for another old laptop to upgrade and keep in a Faraday cage as a backup for whenever the next big solar storm hits.

hawkeye's picture

.. or could upgrade Win7 to Win8.1, as that will have extended support for another 4yrs, until 10th Jab 2023. Ease/Use/Convenience and control, half way between Win 7 and Win10.

I really don't want to upgrade to Win 10 ... still too many horror stories (but will still download Win10 ISO file whilst still free ... just in case it improves with age.)

hawkeye's picture

... forgot to add, Win 8.1 is only free if using Win8 already !

russoule's picture

Why is it that Windows 7 security cannot or will not be upgraded nd thus will cause much grief in the marketplace, but somehow Windows 10 is the ULTIMATE SYSTEM that will NEVER be changed or go out of date? Is Windows 10 so much different than Windows 7 that W10 cannot be hacked? That W10 has no vulnerability? That 10 years down the road it will still be working at optimum speed?

It may be that Microsoft will never give us a "new" Windows OpSys, but you can bet there will be plenty of "upgrades" and "security" downloads for this system. It appears that Microsoft is just another retailer who works the "latest fashion" human foible to sell more of its product.

Microsoft should be required to maintain its Widows 7 product for the same period of time that it maintains Windows 10.

couyidus_12423's picture

We quit buying Windows machines. Everything new has been Ubuntu. Minor glitches - but worth it.

Just don't trust Microsoft any more. It's hard for any Company to recover from loss of trust.