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. 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, attackers may be able to exploit a flaw in Windows 7 that’s already been patched in Windows 10. Remember, Windows 10 is still being continuously updated, making it more secure.
The key takeaway is using Windows 7 is riskier than Windows 10. However, most users can mitigate most risks by taking a few precautions. With Windows 7 still having nearly a 33-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. A cheap way to start is with our list of five free and useful antivirus for Windows. If you’re not sure which features are most important or what they mean, the eight most important features to consider before buying an antivirus will help. Real-time protection and automatic updates are always great features to look for, though.
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 July 2021. Most browsers automatically update or at least notify about updates. Install them to have the most recent security updates for the browser itself. 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 adblocker. 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
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 still receives regular security updates.
Now might be a good time to upgrade to Office 365 or a Microsoft Office alternative. 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.