Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows 7 with security updates. In other words, Windows 7 is now just like Windows XP—an older operating system that will gradually accumulate unpatched security holes. Here’s how to keep it as secure as possible.
We recommend upgrading to Windows 10. In fact, you can still upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free. But, if you’re sticking with Windows 7 for now, we have some security tips.
Business Users Can Pay For Security Updates
We recommend businesses and other organizations pay for extended security updates if they still use Windows 7. This option isn’t available to home users, and the exact price of the updates depends on whether you have Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 7 Professional.
Disconnect Your Windows 7 PC From the Network
Even if you need Windows 7 for some reason, you don’t have to use it for everything. If you need Windows 7 to interface with a specific hardware device or run a software program that doesn’t run on Windows 10, we recommend keeping that Windows 7 computer off your network, if possible.
Malicious websites and other network-based attacks won’t be an issue. Your Windows 7 system can’t be compromised and turned against other devices on your network. You won’t have to worry about security issues if the Windows 7 system is cut off from the dangerous internet.
If you need to run an older software program that doesn’t run on Windows 10, it may also be worth upgrading to Windows 10 and running that older application in a Windows 7 virtual machine on your Windows 10 desktop. Bear in mind that most older applications will run just fine on Windows 10, so this shouldn’t be necessary for most applications.
We know that many people will continue running Windows 7 and connecting it to the internet. If you are, we’ve got some security tips for locking things down.
Run Supported Security Software
We recommend running a good antimalware tool that still supports Windows 7. Be sure it’s actively receiving updates.
Microsoft says it no longer offers downloads its own Microsoft Security Essentials tool, although MSE still seems available for download on Microsoft’s website. Perhaps Microsoft plans to pull the downloads soon. However, if you have Microsoft Security Essentials installed, it will continue receiving malware signature updates until 2023.
Whatever you pick, we also recommend Malwarebytes. The free version of Malwarebytes will let you perform manual scans to remove malware and other junk software from your system, and it also runs on Windows 7.
Microsoft has axed its EMET security tool that helps protect against attacks in favor of the Exploit Protection built into Windows 10. However, anti-exploit software is built into the Premium version of Malwarebytes.
Use a Secure Browser
If you’re still using Windows 7, you should definitely avoid running Internet Explorer. Even Microsoft has recommended moving off of Internet Explorer to a more modern, secure browser.
- Google Chrome still runs on Windows 7 and will support it with security updates until at least July 15, 2021.
- Microsoft’s new Edge browser, based on the same underlying code as Chromium, also supports Windows 7 and will until at least July 15, 2021.
- Mozilla Firefox still runs on Windows 7, too. Mozilla hasn’t said how long it will support Firefox on Windows 7.
With the operating system itself no longer receiving updates, your security software and web browser take on newfound importance in blocking you from threats online.
Secure Your Operating System Settings
If you’re using Windows 7, you should definitely visit Windows Update and ensure you’re up-to-date with all the updates Microsoft released for it. We also recommend having Windows Update automatically check for updates. Microsoft might release especially critical updates for Windows 7 even after the end of support, just as it did for Windows XP.
Keep en eye out for update news, too. Microsoft released an important security update for Windows XP that you had to manually download back in 2019.
Avoid clicking strange links in spam emails or other strange messages sent to you—this is especially important considering it will become easier to exploit Windows 7 in the future. Avoid downloading and running strange files.
Remove (and Update) Installed Applications
Windows 7 was released a long time ago, so you may have quite a few applications you don’t really need installed. Worse yet, they may be outdated.
For example, old versions of browser plug-ins like Java, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and QuickTime are all potentially vulnerable to attack. Go through the list of installed programs in Windows 7’s Control Panel and remove any applications you don’t use.
Ensure all the applications you use are updated to their latest available versions, too. For example, if you still have an old version of WinRAR installed, you need to update it manually or your PC could be vulnerable to malicious ACE archives.
There’s no silver bullet here. Windows 7 will get more dangerous over time as flaws around found. However, the exact attacks Windows 7 is vulnerable to will depend on what security flaws are found, how serious they are, and how easy they are to exploit.
You can keep using Windows 7 and it will still function normally—with some nag messages. Just keep in mind that Microsoft has washed its hands of patching security holes on your machine. We love Windows 7, but its time has passed.