Stop Letting Remote Workers Use Windows 7
Millions of Americans began working from home for the first time in March 2020 when the pandemic hit in full force.
While some companies had the ability to provide laptops or send office desktops home with them, many more needed workers to use personal computers for work. If their computer is still running Windows 7, this inadvertently created a security vulnerability.
Continuing to use Windows 7 in any capacity – even if you have antivirus and a firewall – is risky since Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020.
Let’s explore why, and what you should do now...
- What to Expect from Windows 7 in the Future
- The Need to Update From Windows 7 (and Other Out-of-Date Tools)
- Update to a Supported Web Browser
- Help Remote Workers Keep Your Data Safe
- IT Support and Guidance for Southern California Businesses
In 2015, Microsoft moved Windows 7 from the "mainstream support" category to extended support. This means that the period for new feature development, security updates, and warranty claims has ended. Hackers are always on the prowl for vulnerable systems, and there's no combination of antivirus, firewalls, or VPN that can keep them out if a Windows 7 exploit is found.
What to Expect from Windows 7 in the Future
There's some precedent for Microsoft patching major hacker exploits, even on an operating system that's out of date. For example, they released critical patches for Windows XP in 2019 – 5 years after support officially ended. Though this was probably little relief to the consumers whose systems had been breached in the meantime.
It's possible that Microsoft will release a patch for Windows 7 in the future for major security events, but users shouldn’t count on it.
Windows 7 still ranks among favorite operating systems, and according to October 2020 data from NetMarketShare, just shy of 25% of Windows users are still on Windows 7. The number is down from a year ago, but these computers are a ticking time bomb. With enough time and effort, security flaws will be found—and Microsoft will be slow to patch them, if they do at all.
Had Microsoft known a worldwide work-from-home scenario were coming, they may have extended their support of Windows 7 – but January 14, 2020 came and went, and Windows 7 is now a major liability.
As any IT tech will tell you, security is about layers. It's about keeping access to systems away from malicious actors. A layered approach takes into the different ways a cybercriminal could get in and protects against all angles.
A home network is less likely to have as many solid security layers as a business network, so these machines are at even more risk.
The Need to Update From Windows 7 (and Other Out-of-Date Tools)
Moving away from Windows 7 may seem like an unnecessary chore, especially when it seems like things are still working. But an investment in bringing your employees' operating system up to date will pay dividends when it comes to data security.
Windows 7 isn't the only software that needs to be updated. The rest of the daily tools employees use will vary by industry, but it's also critical to keep them up to date.
Work with your IT team to ensure end users know what programs to update and when. Many will flash a popup on the initial login if a newer version is available, but very few software programs will force users to update in order to use them.
Since updates are generally a good idea (and critical in some cases) it's important to clearly communicate what's expected of the users and where they can ask for help.
Update to a Supported Web Browser
Speaking of updates, outdated web browsers are a concern for all users – but specifically Windows 7 users since their operating system isn’t supported, and the internet is full of potential security landmines. We recommend using a web browser with built-in security features to offer better protection from security threats.
So, what are the web browser options for Windows 7 users? They’re limited, and the list may be getting even shorter soon.
Google will continue to support Chrome on Windows 7 until at least July 15, 2021. They’ve said they will support it for a "minimum of 18 months past the End-of-Life date", and we don’t know if it will be extended.
Microsoft Edge is a relative newcomer and rolled out to all non-Enterprise Windows 7 users in February 2020. Microsoft has said they'll continue support it on Windows 7 until January 15, 2022.
Making one of these browsers your default web browser is a step in a more secure direction because they have some built-in security functionality – but the real issue is still the outdated operating system and the risks that accompany it.
We still recommend migrating to a supported operating system.
Help Remote Workers Keep Your Data Safe
Once your devices leave the office or software is installed on a personal machine, the company loses a degree of oversight. Whenever possible, work with a qualified IT support company to ensure that your software is as safe and secure as possible, no matter where your employees are logging in.
No one knows how long employees are going to work from home. Over the past year, even the most optimistic estimates have repeatedly been pushed back and it's all but guaranteed that employees will be out of the office -- or working in a hybrid fashion -- for at least another few months. There's no time to waste when it comes to securing the computers that employees use to access sensitive data.
One great way to see if you have security gaps is to have an IT & Network Security Assessment. This process will help you find out if your network is as secure as you'd like it to be.
IT Support and Guidance for Southern California Businesses
If you're not confident that your IT team has the bandwidth or the expertise to cover all of your IT needs - including making sure that remote workers are enabled with technology - contact us to start a conversation.
Contributing Author: Erik Bekke, Team Service Manager
Taking the initiative to tackle difficult issues comes naturally to Erik, which is how he moved quickly from Help Desk Technician to Team Service Manager at Accent Computer Solutions. He now leads a team of IT professionals that supports clients on a day-to-day basis. Read more about Erik here: Skyrocketing a Career Path - A Spotlight on Erik Bekke
About Courtney Casey
In an industry dominated by men, Courtney Casey, Director of Marketing for Accent Computer Solutions, Inc., is making her mark on the world of information technology. Courtney has been immersed in the IT field most of her life and has been molded into the tech savvy expert she is today. She began working for Accent while earning her Bachelor's degree from California State University, Long Beach. Known in the Inland Empire as the "Tech Girl," Courtney is a regular columnist for the region's newspaper of record, The Press-Enterprise. Her columns address topical news trends, new technology products, and offer advice on how to embrace technology or avoid common IT pitfalls.