In case you missed it, Microsoft finally ended support for its hugely-popular Windows 7 operating system yesterday, January 14, 2020. What does that mean? Well, Microsoft won’t be issuing any further patches, bug fixes, or new features for the ageing software, which was first introduced back in summer 2009.
That means any vulnerabilities uncovered by cyber criminals will not be fixed – and your PC (and more importantly, the personal data on it) could be hacked by attackers, or locked down in a serious ransomware attack. And that threat isn’t academic, either. Windows 7 users are already at risk – just 24 hours after support for the operating system ended.
According to reliable publication KrebsOnSecurity, Microsoft has started to roll-out a patch for a very worrying cryptographic flaw built into Windows that could leave software installations vulnerable to malware spoofing as trusted components. The flaw – found in Windows component crypt32.dll – is such a serious threat that Microsoft has quietly shipped a patch to all government security services ahead of the release to the wider public, KrebsOnSecurity reports.
According to the security-centric blog: “Sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that Microsoft Corp. is slated to release a software update on Tuesday to fix an extraordinarily serious security vulnerability in a core cryptographic component present in all versions of Windows.
“Those sources say Microsoft has quietly shipped a patch for the bug to branches of the U.S. military and to other high-value customers/targets that manage key Internet infrastructure, and that those organisations have been asked to sign agreements preventing them from disclosing details of the flaw prior to Jan. 14, the first Patch Tuesday of 2020.”
Microsoft has denied this report in a later statement. But regardless of whether the US government got a heads-up on the patch, the most worrying thing is that the flaw – which impacts all versions of Windows, including Windows 7 – will not be rolled-out to anyone who is still using a version of Windows 7 after January 14, 2020.
Of course, Microsoft has offered ample warning to users about the dangers of using an operating that is no longer in support from the manufacturing. Nonetheless, this is a pretty serious test for users – and hours after the deadline for the operating system.
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If you haven’t already upgraded to a version of Windows that is still in support, or switched to Ubuntu or another Linux-based alternative, then this is a pretty good time to update. This is just the first in what could be a very long list of vulnerabilities and issues buried within Windows 7 that could leave you under threat.
Roughly 440 million people are still using Windows 7 worldwide – although not all of these will be without support from the Redmond-based company. Microsoft has already confirmed that Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise users who have purchased Extended Security Updates (ESU) will still receive critical security updates for the next three years. So, if you’ve shelled out for this extra, you can continue to use Windows 7 safe in the knowledge that any show-stopping bugs will be quashed by Microsoft.
Extended Security Updates (ESU) means crucial updates will continue even though both Windows 7 versions will not receive regular bug fixes and updates or assistance from Microsoft Support. Enterprise customers will still be able to receive security support until 2023 if they sign-up for Extended Security Updates (ESU), which is still available.
For everyone else, you’ve got no choice but to change operating systems. Microsoft did offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for anyone running a legitimate version of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 between July 2015 and July 2016. However, the company tells us the promotion has long since shuttered and is no longer to anyone hoping to upgrade. Instead, it encourages Windows users to buy a licence for the latest version of the operating system.
That’s not a cheap ask, given that Windows 10 Home edition costs £119.99 for a single license, which is valid for one PC. And that’s the cheapest available option. The price to upgrade your PC spirals to £219.99 for Windows 10 Pro and a jaw-dropping £339 for Windows 10 Pro for Workstations.
However, an immense number of our loyal readers have reached out to say that Microsoft’s upgrade tool – you know, the one that was supposed to have shuttered back in July 2016 – is still working. Unfortunately, we’ve yet been able to verify this claim, but if you have a valid license key for your current version of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, it’s surely worth a shot?
In a statement, Microsoft said: “If you continue to use an unsupported version of Windows, your PC will still work, but it will become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. Your PC will continue to start and run, but you will no longer receive software updates, including security updates, from Microsoft.”
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