Why Using Windows 7 Is a Security Risk

Earlier this year, Microsoft ended tech support for it—here’s what your church needs to know if you’re still using it.

Support for Windows 7 ended last January.

Still, many continue to run Windows 7. I was at a major Hollywood studio not long ago and noticed several offices with computers still using it. If a Hollywood film studio hadn’t upgraded then, it’s safe to assume many ministries haven’t, either.

So, what’s a church to do?

To answer that question, let’s first clear up a misunderstanding.

As you’ve noticed if you’re using Windows 7, it is still running on your machines. There was no “kill switch” in which a computer exploded or just stopped working. Microsoft’s decision means there is no longer any support for the operating system. No security patches. No updates with fixes. Should a new flaw emerge in Windows 7, Microsoft says it will not patch it—and anyone running Windows 7 is vulnerable to the latest malware, ransomware, and other security risks.

Now, in light of this news, it’s also important to keep this in mind: When Microsoft phased out previous operating systems, dating all the way back to Windows XP, it still provided periodic patches for major vulnerabilities long after support for those operating systems technically expired.

Microsoft has to carefully encourage users and organizations to upgrade to the latest, supported versions without recklessly exposing the millions who have yet to upgrade to new vulnerabilities. But also bear in mind that the few times Microsoft provided those patches, they were for specific, massive security issues. Other, lesser threats and problems went unaddressed.

Options for upgrading

There are many affordable ways to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

Buying new hardware that comes with Windows 10 is the easiest way, and as the costs for technology continue to decrease, such a strategy might prove beneficial.

If you prefer to keep your church’s existing hardware, then an alternative is to check to see whether you have any sort of licensing arrangement directly with Microsoft. If so, then you probably already have an upgrade to Windows 10 available. Review your Microsoft licensing agreements to find out how to get the upgrade. If no upgrade is available through an agreement, though, then you will have to start over and purchase a license for Windows 10.

Microsoft’s free upgrade from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10 expired in 2016. If you have a machine you would like to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft will sell you a Home license for $139.00 or a Pro license for $199.99. They cleverly state on their Upgrade to Windows 10 FAQ page “. . . the best way to experience Windows 10 is on a new PC. Today’s computers are faster and more powerful and come with Windows 10 already installed.” Volume Licensing upgrades for larger organizations vary widely in cost depending on your specific arrangement with Microsoft and are often more affordable than expected.

Do we really have to upgrade?

I’m frequently asked whether an upgrade is really necessary. The short answer is yes. Any computer running Windows 7 that is connected to the internet, even behind a firewall, is a target and a security vulnerability for your entire network. Phishing and spam emails will target weaknesses in Windows 7—and phishing email scams are particularly problematic because getting them through a firewall is easy. The bad actors will take note of any additional security holes discovered and start exploiting them because they know a patch most likely won’t be forthcoming.

Some exceptions

As with everything in technology, there are some exceptions. When support for Windows XP ended in 2014, I received a ton of questions about legacy systems that would only run on Windows XP, such as HVAC systems, lighting controllers, and access control systems.

Your church still can run Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 for these sorts of legacy applications and hardware—but again, make sure these machines are not on the internet and that users cannot access the internet with the machines. This ensures any security holes found after the end of support cannot be exploited, since the only way to use the machine running an unsupported version of Windows is to be physically at the machine.

Looking ahead

The end of support for Windows 7 serves as a larger reminder. With technology, the clock is always ticking. The longer a church waits to make changes and upgrades, the larger the gaps become, and that often leads to a massive drain on resources trying to get current—rather than simply keeping current. Once your church successfully retires Windows 7, the next step should be to set a plan to keep current. At some point, all technology eventually becomes irrelevant and falls out of support. Plan for future success so you aren’t scrambling to manage a crisis.

Jonathan Smith is an author, conference speaker, and the director of technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, Indiana. You can reach him at jsmith@faithlafayette.org and follow him on Twitter @JonathanESmith.

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