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The End of Windows 7 Support and the Risk to Charities, September 2019

19-Sep-2019


In less than 6 months’ time charities running Windows 7 will no longer be compliant in terms of data protection; this will also leave their systems at risk and their information vulnerable to cyber-attack.

In January 2020 the Windows 7 operating system will reach the end of service, and closer to the end of this year Microsoft will start issuing a stream of reminders to users who are still running the operating system to take action.

The reason why Windows 7 is expiring is because like most software products, Windows 7 has a lifecycle – it has a beginning and end. So whilst Microsoft does have a back catalogue of memorable products, it can’t keep updating and provide support for them all, so they will have an expiry date.

If users keep products running on their computer beyond its official end of life they are running unsupported software which would not receive important updates such as technical support or security patches.

Support for Windows 8 ended in January 2016, with support for Windows 8.1 ending two years later, so anyone running those systems would already be out of date.

But because Windows 7 was seen as a more popular operating system, Microsoft kept support open for longer, this support for Windows 7 is now coming to an end on 14th January 2020 and any organisation running outdated software or operating systems needs to be aware of the risks.

Cyber security is an on-going battle between technology vendors and those looking to exploit them, with criminals constantly updating their methods of attack and learning to outwit the security measures that software vendors work to put in place, so the two technologies will always be out-competing each other to survive.

Ultimately, this means that older software is more vulnerable to exploitation and data theft, and this would leave organisations vulnerable and open to attack.

Downloaded updates from Microsoft’s servers, or Security patches, are essential to fixing these vulnerabilities.

If your charity looks after, handles or amends personal data, under recent General Data Protection Reform laws (GDPR) organisations are required to put in place appropriate security measures to protect that data: This does include making sure they have the latest security updates in place.

Based on GDPR, any organisation can face a heavy fine, or have part of their profit seized because they did not look after personal data of clients or people who work for them.

So, ideally for community groups, small businesses and enterprise, charities and similar organisations it should be a simple choice for them to follow so that they reduce their risk being of exposed to data breaches and non-compliance: Take the plunge - upgrade to Windows 10, or switch to a completely different operating environment such as Apple.

You may have noticed that all new Microsoft machines on the market today will come with Windows 10. This is going to be the case for the conceivable future; mainly because Microsoft has now altered the way it delivers its Operating System.

Windows is now seen as a ‘service’: There will not be any newer versions Windows – version 11 is not looming on the horizon! – Instead, there will just be regular updates to Windows 10 which are available to download from the Microsoft servers.

All new PCs and laptop devices automatically come with Windows 10.

Microsoft would always recommend having the newest devices for the best performance, but obviously for a charitable organisation this is not always going to be realistic or practical to replace their entire suite of machines.

But if existing machines meet the system requirements as advised by Microsoft, then they could be upgraded to Windows 10.

The Charity Digital Trust is a known organisation who has been helping other charities expand and achieve their operations using digital technology. They can provide charities that qualify with access to a discounted version of Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise through their Charity Digital Exchange programme for a fraction of the official retail cost. More details can be found on the Charity Digital website.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) work to champion and support local and national charities. They have a growing list of trusted suppliers who have lots of experience working with charities and similar organisations. These suppliers could also help charities with the various services they provide, including Computer Software and Technology Solutions.

NCVO also provide information & advice, even example how-to guides and example case studies to guide charities to help with their IT concerns. More information can be found on the NCVO website.

As the Operating System most of us have come to know gets closer to its 2020 end of life date, Windows 7 users have had to consider moving across to a new or different operating system. While each migration has its own challenges and obstacles, the upgrade to Windows 10 should bring a variety of benefits and improvements.

Migrating to Windows 10 should give existing MS Windows users in the charity sector the benefits and improvements; but whilst the challenge for most is having the resources (and even the budget!) to actually upgrade; in the interest of securing data and often the information that charities store on the people they help, it is comforting to know there are actual options available to make it a less challenging experience.


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