Why should I stop using Windows 7?

Windows 7 for the future: How to secure the system

Thorsten Eggeling

If Microsoft has its way, Windows 7 will be over in January 2020. Then the switch to another operating system such as Windows 10 or Linux is due. Or you can continue to use Windows 7 in a secure environment.

EnlargeWhether support or not - this is how you can still protect your Windows 7 system.
© Daniel Krason - AdobeStock

On January 14, 2020, Microsoft will end its extended support for Windows 7. After that, there will be no more security updates for most users. Without regular updates, however, Windows 7 becomes a particularly vulnerable system. Anyone who is aware of this can still continue to use the system with appropriate security measures. However, we strongly advise against using it as a work computer with an unrestricted internet connection. A role as a file server in the local network is, for example, conceivable.

Continued operation in a virtual machine offers the most effective protection. The system is also at risk here, but the potential impact can be limited. You can continue to use Windows 7 or the installed applications with almost no restrictions.

1. What does end of support mean for Windows 7?

As soon as Microsoft discontinues the security updates, the system is particularly threatened by newly discovered security gaps. Windows 7, 8 and 10 are partly based on the same source code, which is why some security holes are likely to be found in all systems.

Updates for Windows 8.1 and 10 fix the problem, but also inform attackers about the errors and how they can be exploited. Therefore, Windows 7 can be expected to become the preferred target of hackers from January 14, 2020. Windows 7 has reached the end of its useful life ("lifecycle") because it can no longer be used safely as usual without updates. For some time now, Microsoft has been showing a window with information such as "Support for Windows 7 will end soon." We recommend switching to Windows 10.

However, the end of the useful life set by Microsoft does not mean an end of usability. Windows 7 can also be started after January 14, 2020. A valid product key and activation at Microsoft are still required for reinstallation.

2. Use Windows without security updates?

EnlargeWell-deserved retirement after 10 years: Microsoft has been showing messages on Windows 7 for some time that indicate the end of support on January 14, 2020 and recommend switching to Windows 10.

Microsoft closes several Windows security holes month after month. The "Guide for Security Updates" provides information on this. However, hardly any update affects infections that occur without user intervention. The biggest threat comes from infected downloads and email attachments. Security updates do not help, and the virus scanner is often overwhelmed by them.

This is by no means to say that security updates are not required - on the contrary. But you shouldn't overestimate the protective effect of updates and security software.

EnlargeRegular security updates: Microsoft informs about which gaps in Windows have been closed. However, this can then also be misused for attacks on Windows 7.

Windows 7 without internet access can be considered largely secure. Newly installed software must be checked carefully and should only come from particularly trustworthy sources. The same applies to files that applications under Windows 7 are supposed to open and process. Programs such as PDF readers or Office packages should be updated as long as possible. It is foreseeable, however, that many software manufacturers will discontinue support for Windows 7 in the near future.

Reading tip:Find and install drivers for old devices on the Internet

3. Continue to use Windows 7 as a file server

EnlargeWindows 7 as a file server: Even without the dangerous Internet access, shares on Windows 7 computers in the local network can still be used.

Even if Windows 7 can no longer be used as a work computer, the system can still take on a role in the network, for example as a file server.

Step 1: The Windows 7 PC should have network access, but be separated from the Internet. Most routers can be configured with a child safety feature that permanently or time-dependently disconnects a device from the Internet. With a Fritzbox, for example, you call up the configuration interface in the web browser, go to “Home network -› Home network overview ”and click on the“ Network connections ”tab. Find the Windows 7 PC in the list and click on the button with the pencil symbol on the right in the line. Under “Access properties”, select “Blocked” under “Access profile” under “Internet use”. Click OK to save the change.

Step 2: Create a network share on the Windows 7 PC. You can share a folder from your user profile, for example “My Music” or “Download”. Or you can create a new folder, for example "C: \ Share".

Step 3: Right-click the folder you want to share, select “Properties” in the menu, go to the “Sharing” tab, click “Sharing ...” and then in the “File Sharing” dialog "Release". By default, the user who created the folder and share can now access the share over the network. If the username and / or password are different on other PCs, Windows asks for the username and password.

4. Use Windows 7 securely in a virtual PC

EnlargeMore protection against Windows 7: In a virtual machine running Windows 10 or Linux, the system can hardly cause any damage if you observe a few rules for network access and data exchange.

Virtualization software such as Virtualbox provides a virtual PC (virtual machine, VM) in which another operating system can be started. The virtualization software runs under Linux or Windows 10 (host system), Windows 7 (guest system) can be started in a window or in full screen.