The game is not new, but it repeats itself with astonishing uniformity: once again the support for a Windows version has expired – this time for Windows 7. However, the old system continues to run on many computers and is increasingly becoming a security risk. No more updates, which means that all new security gaps that are discovered remain open and offer criminals the opportunity to break into the computer and do what they like there.
Analysis company Statcounter identified a good four million Windows 7 devices when evaluating user data from two million websites in Germany. Together with the also outdated and insecure Windows versions Vista, XP and 8, this adds up to 5.2 million devices that are insecure.
For larger companies and some authorities that still use Windows 7 or other outdated systems on computers, the problem is not quite as serious, but expensive. You can continue to get support for the ancient Windows through special payments. Smaller companies and private individuals, on the other hand, are at great risk.
Some may wonder why he or she should be the target of criminals. But anyone who is on the Internet always reveals which system is running on the computer. Then it can be enough to go to a page that contains a script with malicious intent. Such scripts can be hidden in advertising banners, for example, which sometimes even find their way to reputable sites. It couldn’t be easier for hackers.
Years in advance are known when the support for a system will expire
The amazing thing about this problem is its recurrence. And this despite the fact that it is known years in advance when support for a system will expire. In a company context, it can be an economic consideration to use old systems for longer. Often there are also old programs there that no longer work with new Windows versions. Replacing them can be more expensive than paying for the support renewal.
In the case of private users, it is more likely that ignorance or indifference is behind the refusal to update – or the fear of breaking something. Microsoft even offered the update to Windows 10 free of charge and annoyed with constant hints to please take care of the update. Most computers that could handle Windows 7 also run the 10 version without any problems. The same applies to the control software, the so-called drivers, for peripheral devices such as printers.
Of course, it cannot be ruled out from the outset that the manufacturer Microsoft’s calculation of selling its new software is behind the support cycles; corporate customers still have to pay for it. But that used to be much worse. In the past, almost every new version of Windows even required new hardware because the old computer would usually have been overwhelmed.
If a loophole is closed, criminals look for new loopholes
But over the years there have been many improvements in operating systems, not just in the interface that ordinary users see, but also in the engine room. This particularly applies to the security architecture. How the operating system handles internal processes does not have to be of interest to its users, but it often has to do with defense against threats.
They are also constantly changing. If a loophole is closed, the search for a new one begins. And since the systems are gigantic structures with millions of lines of code, they inevitably contain errors. So it never takes long before the next hole is discovered and exploited – the information about it spreads very quickly in the relevant circles. And then anyone can become a victim: by stealing sensitive data or by mutating the computer into a remote-controlled zombie that sends spam emails.