Do you really need to abandon Windows 7?

The warnings have been dire – YOU MUST UPGRADE TO WINDOWS 10! Is that really true? Are Microsoft, computer manufacturers, and computer resellers just making it all up?

Let’s rewind a bit. Every operating system has an expiration date. After many stays of execution, Windows XP was finally dropped from support in June of 2014. Sadly, a lot of people ignored all the hype and continued to use it for years after that day came and went. In many cases, the computers had business software that could not easily (or affordably) be moved to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Whatever the case, the world continued to rotate as if nothing happened, and most of the affected computers “aged-out” and eventually got replaced.

The next D-Day was yesterday, January 14th 2020. This time around, everyone seemed to take the warnings seriously, as awareness of cybersecurity incidents and computer breaches became more widespread. Almost everyone knows of a local government entity, business, or hospital that suffered a malware or ransomware attack. It probably helped that the due date more or less coincided with a year-end, with many businesses electing to do the right thing while also getting a tax write-off after a year of strong earnings.

Still, however, there are naysayers who have shrugged off the apocalyptic warnings and continue on as if nothing changed. For a variety of reasons, they have elected to ignore the hype and press on with trusty and reliable Windows 7. It’s hard to fault them, as Windows 7 has truly been a great operating system. Like Windows XP, which closely followed Windows Millennium Edition (ME), Windows 7 followed a real stinker when it replaced Windows Vista. Actually, the same is true for Windows 10, which replaced Windows 8. But I digress.

Back to the original question – should you hold out, or should you cry “uncle” and bite the bullet for a new PC? I’ll make this easy for you – Yes, you need to upgrade, and here’s exhibit “A”.

“Patch Critical Cryptographic Vulnerability in Microsoft Windows Clients and Servers”

This dire warning comes from the NSA, who in the past may have kept a flaw like this to themselves in order to further their own espionage efforts. In this case, however, the flaw in question involves the cryptographic service in Windows 10, Windows Servers 2016 and 2019. Arguably, the flaw might be present in every version of Windows since Windows 2000. The alert contains the following warning: “The consequences of not patching the vulnerability are severe and widespread”

To make this more simple, consider the possibility of a bad actor obtaining a master key for nearly every lock in the world. Yes, it’s a lot like that. While there are no known exploits, it is now only a matter of time before the bad guys catch up. The NSA did the right thing and informed Microsoft of the flaw a few weeks ago, and Microsoft responded with a security patch, releasing it yesterday, along with several other important security patches. “Patch Tuesday” is the second Tuesday of every month.

While this warning does not mention other versions of Windows, I think it’s safe to assume similar vulnerabilities will be found and exploited in older versions of Windows as well. If you apply the ensuing security patches, you will be protected. But what happens if you have Windows 7 and you can’t get patches? You might just find yourself on your own.

A similar incident happened to Windows XP after its announced end of support. The “EternalBlue” hack severely impacted the UK National Health Service and the Russian Interior ministry, among others. Microsoft caved to intense pressure and created a patch. But will they do the same for future exploits of Windows 7? I would not bet the farm (or the company, hospital, government agency, or nuclear power plant) on it.

The conclusion I hope you reach is this – upgrading to Windows 10 is the only sane, rational approach.