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Windows 7 End of Life Is Nearly Here

If you’re still using Windows 7, you probably need to move “Upgrade my software” to the top of your to-do list.

On Jan. 14, 2020, Windows 7 will reach its end of life (EOL), which means that Microsoft will no longer offer patches to protect your PCs from things like new viruses and security threats. It’s kind of like driving your car without insurance — even though you know the brakes are going bad.

Of course, it’s not as if Windows 7 will just stop working when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 13. It will continue to work, but it will do so without any support, which means you’re putting all of your data at risk if you continue using it. At that point, Microsoft won’t take any responsibility for breaches or attacks that occur.

Even though the EOL date has been well publicized, as of November 2019, 27% of users worldwide were still using Windows 7, according to NetMarketShare. This means hundreds of millions of devices around the globe will be at risk for threats and data breaches if action isn’t taken before the deadline.

The Dangers of Keeping Windows 7

Windows 7 has been on an extended support period from Microsoft since 2015, when mainstream support ended. That means that users received critical security updates but did not have access to new features. In January, when all support goes away, so do those critical security updates. This leaves Windows 7 users at risk for being targeted by hackers and other malicious users, who know that anyone still using the program will be left vulnerable.

However, it’s common for users to ignore EOL deadlines, even though they’re doing so at their own risk. A 2015 report from Spiceworks and SanDisk found that when Windows Server 2003 reached its EOL, about 25% of users didn’t plan to replace it with an upgrade until after the deadline. And that’s taking a gamble that is simply too risky. Let’s look at the top five risks of continuing to use a program after EOL.

1. Security Concerns

This is the biggest and most obvious issue, although not the only one. New malware is being developed daily, creating a hazardous environment that becomes more dangerous when security upgrades disappear. For your business, it’s not enough to safeguard data with just a firewall and anti-virus software, as hackers can easily work around those and exploit your data.

Hackers also know that anyone still using Windows 7 after support goes away will be an easy target, and they can easily access information such as credit card numbers and other data that can spell big trouble for your business.

2. Compliance Issues

If you’re a small business and you have customers’ personal data, you’re not just risking losing your data — you could lose your business. The 2019 Cost of a Data Breach Report from IBM and the Ponemon Institute puts the price tag of a data breach at $150 for every record that is compromised. Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that 60% of small businesses go under within six months of a cyberattack.

And data breaches are even more damaging for anyone in the healthcare space, which costs organizations, on average, $6.45 million per breach. Several bills centered on data security and privacy have been introduced, and other regulations for data protection such as CCPA and GDPR have been signed into law, so failing to provide proper security may even have legal ramifications as well.

3. Incompatibility With Other Software

Each time a new application is introduced, it is optimized for the most up-to-date operating system. Once Windows 7 reaches EOL, you won’t be able to update it, which means you’ll have to use older, outdated and less efficient applications.

4. Higher Costs

If you’re holding on to Windows 7 in hopes of saving money, you’re rolling the dice. If you have any problems with your software and need to fix a bug, or even if you just need to maintain it, it’s going to cost more after it hits EOL status.

Microsoft will provide some extended security updates for its Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 Enterprise users. Those customers will be able to purchase updates as an “add-on” feature through January 2023, but the price of those updates will increase over time. Charges will be calculated per device and early estimates show it will go as high as $200 per device by Year 3 (2022-2023). However, Microsoft has indicated that these updates will only be offered to larger business and education customers.

5. Impaired Performance

Windows 7 is a decade old, which means it’s going to break down at some point. And before that happens, you can expect performance issues — which also goes back to the problem of higher costs.

Make Your Windows 7 Exit Plan

If you haven’t planned ahead for the Windows 7 EOL, you don’t have to panic, but you should start taking action immediately. Start by creating a plan that allows you to address the highest risk systems in your business first.

You’ll still want to upgrade all systems that are running Windows 7, but if you’re not able to upgrade all systems at the same time, you can buy time and a little peace of mind by targeting the systems that are running your most sensitive tasks or have databases of customer information.

Creating a timeline for upgrading all systems running Windows 7 has several benefits. Upgrading to Windows 10 will give you improved security since it is specifically designed to protect users from the threats of ransomware, spyware and phishing attacks that have become so prevalent in the modern business world. It also has many other business-friendly features, such as Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, and the popular customizable tile-based start screen introduced by Windows 8. You’ll also find that Windows 10 runs faster and uses some of the functionalities you’ve grown accustomed to using on your smartphone — such as notifications and updates — to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Now Is the Time to Make Your Move

Taking action as soon as possible is your best bet when it comes to upgrading Windows 7. For one thing, it’s a great way to spend any of your remaining 2019 IT budget and increase your 2019 tax write-offs. And, if you’re working with older equipment, you might want to also consider upgrading your computers to be compatible with the new software: In order to operate Windows 10, you’ll need a minimum processor speed of 1 GHz and either 1 GB of RAM for a 32-bit machine or 2 GB for a 64-bit machine. If you don’t have the right equipment, don’t risk a security breach by continuing to use Windows 7 after it has reached end of life. Protecting your data is one of the most important things you can do for your business, so don’t overlook the value of this investment.

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