Windows 7 migration warning: Plan now to avoid security worries later

Malware can spread much more easily on obsolete platforms, warns security body. With less than a year until the end of Windows 7 support, don't get caught out.

The clock is ticking for Windows 7, which goes out of support in January next year. That means no more features or security updates unless you pay Microsoft for additional support.

There are still hundreds of millions of PCs still running Windows 7, which means that migrating PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 may be one of the top priorities for IT departments this year. That's assuming they realise there is a deadline coming; one recent survey claimed that 17 percent of tech departments didn't know the deadline was looming.

Microsoft is very keen to move companies onto Windows 10 (the price of Windows 7 support will increase every year, which will likely make migration to Windows 10 more attractive too). But the security risk of having vast numbers of unpatched PCs in use across businesses is also a potentially huge headache. The UK's tech security body, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has also issued a reminder that the Windows 7 deadline is looming — and warned of the risks of running software without support.

Keeping software up to date is one of the most effective ways of keeping your networks and devices secure, it said in a blog post: "This is why planning your upgrades far in advance is especially important.

"Many of you will remember when Windows XP went out of support in 2014. It wasn't long after that before exploitation of the final version of the platform became fairly widespread. Malware can spread much more easily on obsolete platforms because, without security updates, known vulnerabilities will remain unpatched. As a result, it's crucial to move away from them as quickly as possible," it has warned.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)    

NCSC is working on security guidance for Windows 10, version 1809, and has already published end-user device guidance for Windows 10 1803, when using MDM management or traditional Active Directory management.

Not everyone is likely to upgrade every device. Some PCs will be too old to make the jump, and applications essential to particular business processes may not work with Windows 10. In this scenario, NCSC has some guidance on how to minimise risk when using obsolete platforms but warns "you should really only do this as a last resort".

Getting to Windows 10 doesn't mean tech staff can relax; NCSC also points out that Windows 10 Home/Pro editions of 1709 go out of support in April this year, and Enterprise/Education editions of 1607 do the same. 

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