Stop Letting Remote Workers Use Windows 7
Millions of Americans began working from home for the first time this March. While some companies had the ability to provide laptops or send office desktops home with them, many more required workers to use personal computers and might have inadvertently created a security vulnerability because their computers are still running Windows 7.
The process of loading company software onto so many machines left the operating systems as an afterthought. However, support for Windows 7 ended January 14 and your company is facing major risks if it's still in use, even if you have antivirus and a firewall.
In 2015, Microsoft moved Windows 7 from the "mainstream support" category to extended support. This marked the end of new feature development as well as warranty claims.
Microsoft kept a team on Windows 7 to ensure that any required patches or updates could still be quickly released—that's the process that ended on January 14 of this year. 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 just last year. This was probably little relief to the consumers whose systems had been breached in the meantime, though.
It's clear that users can't expect a quick resolution from Microsoft on systems marked "end-of-life" and as of January 14, 2020, that includes Windows 7.
According to March 2020 data from NetMarketShare, more than a quarter of Windows users are still on Windows 7. The number is down from 36% 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.
It's likely that Microsoft would have extended their support of Windows 7 through the coming months had they been able to predict that we'd be in the middle of a worldwide work from home scenario. But January 14th came and went, and Win7 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. And if the systems are visible, keeping them impenetrable. Once there's a dedicated attack on a computer, things like antivirus and firewall finally come into play but the best defense is keeping a low profile.
More and more hackers will move to targeting Windows 7 systems over the next few months, especially as new bugs are discovered and Microsoft is slow to fix them.
The Need to Update
Moving away from Windows 7 may seem like an unnecessary chore, especially when it still makes up such a large market share. Windows 7 is by far the most popular Windows version since the classic XP (interestingly, Windows XP still makes up nearly 2% of the market and is a frequent target for hackers).
In the rush to make sure employees can safely work from home, their computer's operating system may not be your company's first point of concern. But an investment in bringing your employees' OS 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.
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 company to ensure that your software is as safe and secure as possible no matter where your employees are logging in.
The truth is, no one knows how long employees are going to work from home. Over the past month even the most optimistic estimates have repeatedly been pushed back and it's all but guaranteed that employees will be out of the office for at least another few weeks. 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 computers are secure and up to date.
IT Guidance and Support 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.
Along with ensuring the computers are updated with Windows 10, the Accent team can optimize connections and give your employees the tools they need to succeed. For any other questions about Accent or how we can help, please don't hesitate to contact us today.
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.