Your computer operating system’s end of life may be sooner than you think

Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7 in 2020

There is a serious deadline facing computer users at the end of this calendar year, one that places countless businesses, non-profit companies and individual users at high risk of becoming a victim of hackers and thieves.  It’s a technological brick wall that most IT professionals know about, but many in the public likely have no idea what’s about to take place with a specific computer operating system. It’s about to become the Wild Wild West for many users.

On January 14, 2020, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7 and providing updates. As a result, Windows 7 will become the equivalent of a lawless town with no white hatted sheriff, and the black hatted online villains will run rampant. Put simple, any Windows 7 machine, if connected to the internet, will be subject to the whim of the bad guys. Automated processes will sweep the internet in search of Windows 7 machines and take advantage of the fact that there is no one watching and protecting your information.

In IT terms, this is an “EOL” or End of Life Event for Windows 7.  Now, many people are no longer using that system, but millions of others remain at risk because that is the basis of their company personal computer operating system.

To anyone unfamiliar, some easy background:  there are fundamentally two kinds of computer software. There are operating systems and applications. Applications are products like the Microsoft Office suite, Adobe Acrobat, QuickBooks and the like. These are the products you use in your workaday life to accomplish your work and to communicate and collaborate with colleagues.

Operating systems are the underlying software that actually run your computer. There are more of those than you might think, but for the purpose of this discussion, in the world of small and medium sized business, Microsoft operating systems hold the dominant market share, with apologies to Mac enthusiasts.  Microsoft operating systems Windows XP and Windows 7 have been arguably the most resilient and effective modern operating systems. The dominant OS from Microsoft today is Windows 10. There have also been operating systems better forgotten, like Windows Vista and Windows ME.

Behind the scenes of most if not all the software you use, there is a battle raging. Have you ever wondered why your computer is seemingly continually updating? There is a very good reason; to protect you and your information.

There are nefarious types in the world whose sole purpose is finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in software. Using an old-time western movie analogy, we call them “Black Hats”. Combatting those Black Hats literally every day are the forces of good or, continuing the analogy, White Hats.  The updates you receive frequently are the continuous efforts of White Hats who are working to remedy vulnerabilities in your software and are fending off the Black Hats.

Windows Server 2008 will be going EOL in January as well. The same concerns apply, and are exacerbated by the fact that the server is the center of your computing infrastructure.  When the white hats are gone, users are largely unprotected from the black hat attacks going forward.

The remedy?  The first answer is to simply upgrade from Windows 7, but in most cases, if a machine is running Windows 7, it’s probably 3 years old or older, and has less operating room and will perform poorly day to day. Rather than spend hundreds of dollars on software and services to upgrade the OS on an aging computer, a better solution is to replace the computer for just a few hundred dollars more. It’s not a major fix, but for businesses ill-prepared for the deadline, it can be an unexpected and rather large expense if multiple computers are using Windows 7.

EOL is nothing out of the ordinary, it’s part of a product lifecycle. A little advance planning will keep companies and people out of the red and out of the hands of the black hats, whose sole mission is to steal from you.

Matt Mercier is founder and CEO of Acapella Technologies in Manchester.

Categories: Tech Advice