Windows 7 ranks among the top Windows operating systems. It’s the reason individuals and businesses are still clinging to the OS even after Microsoft ended support in January 2020. While you can continue to use Windows 7 after the end of support, the safest option is to upgrade to Windows 10 or Windows 11. If you are unable (or not willing) to do so, there are ways to continue using Windows 7 safely with no more updates. However, “safely” still isn’t as safe as a supported operating system.
Understanding the Risks
While you may think there aren’t any risks, remember that even supported Windows operating systems are hit with zero-day attacks. These are attacks that are being actively exploited while developers hurry to issue effective security patches. With Windows 7, there won’t be any security patches arriving when hackers decide to target Windows 7, which they’ll likely do.
Using Windows 7 safely means being more diligent than usual. If you’re someone who doesn’t really use antivirus software and/or visits questionable sites, the risk is likely too high. Even if you’re visiting reputable sites, malicious ads could leave you exposed.
While some of these risks exist even in Windows 10/11, attackers may be able to exploit a flaw in Windows 7 that’s already been patched in these newer versions. Remember, Windows 10 and 11 are still being continuously updated, making them more secure.
The key takeaway is that using Windows 7 is riskier than using Windows 10/11. However, most users can mitigate most risks by taking a few precautions. With Windows 7 still having over a 25-percent market share at the time of writing, many users are sticking with Windows 7 no matter what. So why not be a little safer?
While technically you can use your computer without antivirus protection, most people aren’t careful enough to avoid all dangers. In fact, my antivirus regularly blocks sites with expired security certificates and malicious ads or scripts. The sites are ones I know should be safe, but they’re susceptible to attacks just like any other site online, good or bad.
Start by researching various antivirus tools to see which one is best for your needs. You’ll only need one. Real-time protection, automatic updates, ease of use, and efficiency are great features to look for.
Another option to consider is Windows Defender, which works on Windows 7 as well as later versions of Windows. If you suspect something might have already infected your Windows 7 PC, download the offline version of Microsoft Defender on another computer and use a USB drive to scan your system. You can also download Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 for additional protection.
Update Your Browser
Your browser usually has some built-in security features. Every extra line of defense helps protect you against malware and other threats. Currently, Google is promising that Chrome will work with Windows 7 until at least January 2023. Most browsers automatically update or at least notify about updates. Install them to have the most recent security updates for the browsers themselves. Whichever browser you use, update it. Most importantly, don’t use Internet Explorer. Seriously, it hasn’t been safe for years.
If you’re using numerous browser extensions, plugins, and add-ons, get rid of any you don’t use. An outdated extension leaves you open to attack. If it’s an extension you still use, check for updates monthly.
While many websites rely on ads to pay the bills, some sites aren’t careful about the ads they use. Using Windows 7 safely is much easier if you don’t have to worry about the ads you’re probably not paying attention to installing malware on your computer.
Even the most reputable sites can be dangerous. For instance, Forbes tried to force users to stop using ad-blocking tools only to serve up malware to those who disabled their adblockers. Of course, Equifax had malicious ads not long after being hacked.
So, for your safety, it’s a good idea to block ads while using an outdated operating system. A few options to consider include:
- AdBlock – Customizable and even allows unintrusive ads to still support sites if you allow it
- AdBlock Plus – Works similarly to AdBlock but is no relation
- uBlock – Blocks ads and trackers and lets you customize filters
Also, some browsers have ad-block tools built-in. Brave is a good option if you don’t want to have to install a special plugin.
Use Updated Software
You’ll want to stick with software that still supports Windows 7. However, look for software that’s still actively supported. For instance, Chrome still supports Windows 7 and receives regular security updates.
Now might be a good time to upgrade to Office 365. Try to stay away from questionable software, such as audio and video downloaders that often come bundled with dangerous trackers and keyloggers.
While you should do this on any operating system you use, using Windows 7 safely means being more cautious than usual. Don’t click on ads online. Never click any pop-up that claims your computer’s infected unless it’s coming directly from your antivirus tool.
Avoid visiting sites that are known to be dangerous, such as P2P downloading sites and adult sites. Also, never open an email unless you know for certain it’s safe. If it looks legitimate, click the sender name to verify the email address before clicking anything in the email itself.
Simply being cautious, using updated software, and using antivirus is enough to keep you safer while using Windows 7. However, the recommendation is still to upgrade to Windows 10 if possible. If you really insist on staying on Windows 7, then at least see our guide on how to make Windows 7 look like Windows 10.
Secure Your Network
Honestly, this tip applies no matter what operating system you might be using. However, since Windows 7 no longer receives security patches, it’s a little easier for hackers to exploit. One line of defense is to secure your network.
Create a strong Wi-Fi password. It may sound silly at first, but with so many smart home devices in use, hackers do try to break into networks just to make use of network resources. Having a strong Wi-Fi password can help thwart those attacks and keep your Windows 7 device safer.
Also, if you’re taking your Windows 7 PC on the go with you, never connect to public Wi-Fi without a VPN. It’s far too easy for hackers to grab any data you enter on your PC on public Wi-Fi networks. The same holds true for any device on public Wi-Fi.
Many sites have already defaulted to HTTPS, which provides a more secure way to transmit data between your PC and online servers. Any site that doesn’t have HTTPS, along with a current security certificate, leaves any personal data you enter visible to hackers.
Some browsers offer you the option to only request HTTPS sites and will provide you with a warning if the site doesn’t offer HTTPS or the certificate is expired. You’ll see “https” at the beginning of the URL in your browser along with the security lock icon. You may need to click in the URL box to view the full URL.
These sites are safer to use in general. However, it’s a good idea to still avoid clicking on any ads.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are hackers really that interested in Windows 7 PCs?
Hackers are interested in any device they can get into. It doesn’t matter what operating system the device is running. However, if you were trying to break into a house, would you pick the one with no front door or the one with a locked front door and security camera? You’d obviously go with the house with no front door, as it’s the easiest.
From installing malware to get access to personal data to needing machines for cryptomining and DDoS attacks, hackers look for the easiest targets. According to CVE Details, there were over 100 new Windows 7 vulnerabilities in 2021 and 2022 alone and this is after support ended in 2020. So, these are unpatched exploits.
Plus, the infamous WannaCry ransomware hit Windows 7 harder than other systems – and variants still exist. Yes, hackers want in, and Windows 7 is an easier target.
2. Is it safe to continue online shopping and banking on Windows 7?
No antivirus is perfect, so malware is definitely still a possibility. However, zero-day attacks can occur even on the newest and most secure operating systems. With this type of attack, antivirus might not even have detection in place for them yet.
Your risk of malware is higher with Windows 7 versus newer operating systems. If you’re being extremely cautious, you can continue with your normal activities. However, it would be better to leave all financial transactions to a more secure system.
The safest ways to keep using financial information are to ensure you’re using unique passwords for every account and run antivirus scans daily (along with real-time protection).
3. What if my PC is not eligible for an upgrade?
Using Windows 7 safely is never going to be completely possible. However, it’s also entirely likely that even though your PC works great, it’s not eligible to upgrade to Windows 10 and especially not to Windows 11, which has more strict hardware requirements.
In this case, you might want to consider switching to Linux. Yes, there are risks with Linux too, but reputable distros are frequently updated to patch vulnerabilities, unlike Windows 7. You can even try DistroTest to test drive distros before picking the right one for you.
Of course, if your hardware is outdated, it may simply be time to buy a new PC.
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