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Windows 7 End-of-Life: Managing the Aftermath

By: Paul Reissner

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Windows 7 was released more than 10 years ago and with more than 630 Million computers running this operating system (OS), it may be one of the most prolific OS to ever be released by Microsoft. However, as with XP before it, this beloved operating system was put out to pasture on January 14th, 2020. With the end-of-life, and thus the end of critical security updates, what does that mean for business users still using Windows 7? Is it reasonable to continue using this version? Is there anything businesses can do to ensure that critical software that isn’t compatible with Windows 10 can be used securely? In our 25 years of business, Dataprise has seen many versions of Windows come and go and is here to provide your organization with guidance on modernizing equipment where possible and securing older systems where essential.

1. What does end-of-life mean?

The current status of Windows 7 is “End-of-Life”. This status means that the manufacturer, Microsoft, will not release any additional updates or patches for this version of Windows even if there is a major security issue found. This status is official as of January 14th, 2020. Before this Microsoft ended “Mainstream Support” for Windows 7 on January 13th, 2015. Microsoft classifies support into two models. “Mainstream Support” where feature improvements and general “bug fixes” are still released (usually in the form of “Service Packs”) and “Extended Support” where only security updates will be provided, these updates address vulnerabilities that may allow malware or “bad guys” to impact your computer. As the manufacturer Microsoft is only able to provide a certain level of resources to support and maintain their software, this is because eventually the computers that we use and how we use them change in ways that were never accounted for when the operating system was originally developed.

2. What does end-of-life mean for my organization?

From a realistic standpoint, what does “End-of-Life” status mean for the average organization? Primarily this means that it isn’t possible to ensure that these computers are secure, especially after vulnerabilities are found that never will be patched. Because of this, a Windows 7 machine can potentially be used by malware or a “bad guy” to gain access to your network or sensitive information. This also means that organizations may not be able to take advantage of newer technology either due to lack of software support (new versions of software that you use may not officially support Windows 7) or because hardware simply isn’t compatible (faster computers and newer printers or other devices). This has the potential to decrease your employee’s ability to work efficiently. On top of all of this, your employees are likely now accustom to newer operating systems and may be unfamiliar with how to use Windows 7.

The security implications of using Windows XP since it became “End-of-Life” in 2014 have been made clear. If your organization is required to maintain compliance (such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, or 800-171) running an out of date operating system is a clear negative mark. Windows XP users were also locked into using older versions of software with known critical vulnerabilities (for example, Adobe PDF readers vulnerable to exploitation by ransomware). The current security guidance for organizations that still rely on Windows XP for legacy software support is to leverage the built-in Windows Firewall and/or network security practices to severely lock down how these machines can communicate on the network, if at all. The same recommendations would apply to organizations that rely on Windows 7 in the same way, however generally speaking the best solution is to simply upgrade the software and/or hardware you are using to Windows 10.

3. What are the advantages of newer systems?

Newer computers running Windows 10 provide most organizations with significant advantages over those running older computers with Windows 7. This includes access to significantly faster hard drives (sometimes hundreds of times faster), memory, and processors that allow employees to work faster and perform more tasks simultaneously. Windows 10 also offers significant software improvements, this includes better integration with Office365, better multitasking, and access to the latest versions of common Line of Business applications from Microsoft and Adobe. It’s important to know that this “End-of-Life” status also applies to Windows Server 2008R2 and the same risks associated with this older operating system, as well as the advantages of upgrading, apply to your servers as well.

The “End-of-Life” of Windows 7 and Server 2008R2 has the potential to impact your organization in the future and there is a significant advantage to migrating to a supported operating system. Dataprise leverages 25 years of experience of migrating businesses of all sizes to new operating systems and computers to allow clients to make the most of their technology investment. Solutions can be as simple as performing a quick software upgrade on a few existing computers or architecting a secure network to protect your corporate network from the potential threats introduced by the need to run legacy software beyond normal support periods. We have in some cases even moved critical infrastructure into Microsoft’s Azure cloud to allow for continued support affording organizations the time needed to scope and implement replacements.

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