Monthly Archives: February 2020

The Risks of Cyberattacks with Windows 7

We hope you understand that this article is being written with tears in our eyes. After months of being part of the loud choir warning about the End of Life of Windows 7, some estimates state that up to 32% of all computers worldwide are still using this operating system!

Currently, the most common cyberattacks against small and medium businesses are phishing, malware, denial of service attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and ransomware. A man-in-the-middle attack is named that way because a hacker wedges a barrier between two parties who are conducting a business transaction. The hacker then becomes the liaison for data swapping, so it is easy to steal sensitive data. An SQL breach involves installing malicious code into a SQL server and then siphoning out the data. And we’ve all heard the latest horror stories on how ransomware is holding businesses, corporations, and even whole cities hostage.

Although the funeral seats of Windows 7 are still warm, the first major attacks and vulnerabilities are already starting to raise their ugly heads. As the OS becomes more and more obsolete and more information is passed from hacker to hacker on the Dark Web, the overall safety of your data becomes less and less.

Count the Costs

Data breaches do a lot more than just cause chaos in your office. Once your system has been compromised, you need to find a way to get your information back, either because you need it to function or because it may contain sensitive information. The 2018 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report calculated that on average, a data breach can cost your company $148 — per record. Many companies have hundreds, thousands or even millions of records!

Besides the costs of just having the records themselves stolen, think of the liability that those stolen records can expose you to. Think about lawsuits if your customers’ personal or financial records become available to the public. If you’re a medical office or happen to have medical files on patients, a hack can put you in hot water with HIPPA violations, which can put you on the line for up to $25,000 for each breached file. Clearly just on a financial level, making sure your company is protected is worth its weight in gold.

The Problem and Solution

So, what exactly are hackers looking for? In a perfect world, they can trick you by either downloading a virus or hooking you with a phishing scheme. However, computer users have become more knowledgeable over the years, so those scenarios have become only minor tools for hackers.

As the expression goes, “Every lock has a key.” Sometimes there are ways to get into your system that were put there by design and sometimes the programmers made a mistake and created a backdoor in the OS without realizing it. Either way, it’s usually only a matter of time before one or more hackers find their way into your system. Once one finds their way in, they rarely keep this information to themselves and often sell it or just give it away.

In a normal situation like this, once Microsoft is aware of the vulnerability, they will create a patch to remedy the problem. A patch is downloaded code that will update the part of Windows where the problem is located. It is always recommended that you download and install patches as soon as they become available.

The End of Life Problem

When Microsoft or any other company says that its software is at its End of Life, it usually doesn’t mean that it will stop working. Rather, it just means that the company will no longer support it. In the case of Microsoft, that means that they will no longer provide security patches or any other updates in addition to not offering support from their techs. Really, it’s just a matter of time before the system becomes obsolete and holes are found in its armor.

Speaking of which, 2 security researchers at Guardicore Labs recently announced that the Barbarians are not only at the gates, they have already entered. According to them, a medium-sized medical tech company was hacked when pirates found a way into their system via WAV files. As we said, it’s just a matter of time before this grows to more and more ways to undermine the system of Windows 7 users.

The Obvious Solution

We’re not going to beat a dead horse on the topic, so we’ll just say that the best way to avoid these problems is by upgrading to Windows 10. But not so fast! Simply upgrading your OS is not going to keep you safe forever. Just because you will then have access to the safety protections that Windows 7 now lacks doesn’t mean it’s a one-and-done situation. You need to make sure that your systems are always up to date. Did you just get a pop-up for a new update? Stop what you’re doing and make sure that every machine on your system is updated. Having just one person put it off can put your whole network in danger.

We understand that there is a big difference between taking care of a single personal computer at home and a whole network of computers and servers at your business. Updates, especially on servers, can often be a time consuming and daunting task. That’s why we’re here to help. If you feel that you need a helping hand in making sure your system is up to date and stays that way, please contact us to see how we can assist.

Microsoft Security Flaws

Life can be ironic, can’t it? We’re not just talking about the “Rain on your wedding day” kind of irony, either. It seems that Microsoft and anyone who works in the tech field — ourselves included — have been harping about how Windows 7 users need to upgrade before its End of Life happened on January 14th. And what else happened on that day?

Well, Windows 7 did meet its End of Life, but the NSA also came out with a warning that Windows 10 — and all other platforms that Windows 7 users were supposed to move to — had a massive security threat. So, how important is this, and more importantly, how does this affect you and your business?

Conflicting Stories

Microsoft has been pretty tight-lipped about this whole situation and has already rolled out a patch, although they’ve only labeled this as an important update, not critical like they have for similar issues in the past. Industry experts feel this can be a way of trying to play down a major issue, making it seem like this is nothing more than a minor hiccup. This might have worked had the NSA not said anything.

The NSA has been notorious at finding exploits in Windows, as well as other operating systems, so they can conduct surveillance without asking permission from software developers. In fact, the famous Wannacry virus was believed to have spread so quickly because hackers found an exploit that the NSA was using at the time. The reason we bring this up is that if the NSA is making this public and not merely keeping it to themselves like before, it must mean that this is a major issue that risks the security of more than just a handful of people. We’ll probably never know the real truth behind the matter, though we can guarantee that there is plenty of information that is not being shared with the general public.

The Windows 7 Connection

Both Microsoft and the NSA made their announcements on January 14th, so it stands to reason that this must have been a known issue for a while. Which begs the question, why didn’t anyone say something sooner? More likely than not, it was probably because Microsoft had been pushing the Windows 10 upgrade for so long that if those who hadn’t upgraded from Windows 7 heard about the gaping flaw, it might have given them an excuse to hold back.

From what it looks like, the issue stemmed from a program that interfaces with digital signatures and determines whether or not a program is legitimate and licensed. Somehow there was a vulnerability in the sequence that opened a door so huge, even the NSA considered it too much of a breach of privacy for individuals and businesses. As far as we know, this was not an issue on machines running Windows 7.

So, I Might As Well Stay With Windows 7, Right?

Not so fast, buddy. Yeah, we’ll be the first to admit that this whole situation doesn’t smell right and was most likely the result of Microsoft trying to save face, but don’t make this is an excuse to stay with Windows 7 if you haven’t already upgraded. Security concerns are a fact of life and having one doesn’t make Windows 10 any better or worse than other versions. Think about your favorite version of Windows and it probably had dozens of issues that needed to be resolved over the years. Yes Microsoft indeed caused this problem themselves and it wasn’t just a way in that hackers devised, but again, that’s to be expected from time to time. Both Microsoft and the NSA said that neither was aware of anyone having been pirated as a result of this vulnerability.

When it comes down to it, here is the hard fact of the matter: although this flaw in Windows 10 wasn’t great, it was fixed quickly, and any other issues or vulnerabilities will be continued to be fixed for the foreseeable future. Windows 7, on the other hand, is dead and is never coming back.

Think of it this way: would you still run Windows 95 on your computer? Chances are your answer would be an emphatic no. And why not? Most likely due to a lack of functionality and security issues. Well, if not Windows 95, why not Windows 98, NT, ME or XP? Probably for the same reasons as for Windows 95.

Although Windows 7 still works and was just recently updated, it’s no different than any other previous version of Windows. Those who still use older versions can be and are hacked regularly. Why? Because they aren’t supported, so hacking them gets easier every day.

Looking Ahead

We understand that if your business still hasn’t updated from Windows 7, there is most likely a good reason besides just being lazy. There are always several considerations to making changes, such as hardware upgrades, data migration, and even software compatibility. For a company that isn’t equipped for all of this, upgrading may be an overwhelming prospect.

If you find yourself in that situation, please contact us to see how we can help your business move forward and stay there. Whether you need a one-time service or perhaps full MSP coverage, our team of professionals is here to help.

7 Reasons to Upgrade from Windows 7

It’s true that we’ve been running around like Chicken Little, shouting about Windows 7 End of Life, but you know what? The sky has fallen — Windows 7 is dead. That’s right, we are past the End of Life date and Windows 7 is no longer being supported by Microsoft. At least that’s what they are saying.

“But wait,” you say. “My computer system still works. In fact, I’m reading this on a Windows 7 computer right now!” While it’s true that Microsoft didn’t pull the plug on the operating system, that doesn’t mean that you should still be using it. And if you are clinging on to that dated technology, we’ll offer you 7 reasons why you should upgrade from Windows 7.

#1. No More Updates

Ok, so we’ll get the big issue out of the way first. Microsoft has ceased releasing new patches and security updates for Windows 7. You might feel safe for now, but hackers will soon learn how to get past the latest security barriers, as they always do. In the past that wouldn’t be that big of an issue as Microsoft would regularly come out with new patches. Something that won’t be happening now.

When hackers find a new way to get in, not only will they cause as much havoc as possible, they’ll also share or sell this information on the Dark Web. Then it will be open season.

#2. Large Target

Some people figure that if they continue to use the outdated OS, it’s no big deal since most people have already switched to Windows 10. The thought is that hackers going after a handful of people on the older systems isn’t worth the time. Yes, most Windows users have indeed upgraded, but keep in mind that there are between 1.2-1.5 billion current PC’s running on Windows. The US Digital Analytics Program estimates that as of December 2019, 18.7% of those users were still on Windows 7, which would add up to almost 300 million users. If you were a hacker and you had a pool of potential victims who were using an operating system that is no longer supported, you would most likely dedicate your time trying to pirate their systems. The path of least resistance.

#3. Speed

The newer Windows OS is much leaner on the backend. Take booting up as an example. On average, you can save more than a minute starting up your computer. That may not sound like much, but think about how much time that saves over the course of just one year. Assuming you work five days a week for an entire year, that’s 260 minutes (4.3 hours) of you unnecessarily waiting at your computer. If you have a team of just 20 people, that would be 87 wasted man-hours every year!

That’s just the bootup time. Even web browsing is faster! The newer OS platforms use more web and cloud-based applications. Less network interaction between your computer and server means faster runtime across the board.

#4. Touch Support

When Windows 7 came out, touchscreens were still a novelty. Now, since everyone is using tablets and smartphones, more and more applications for touchscreens on PCs are commonplace. These can range from signatures to graphic design and beyond. Given, this alone probably isn’t a reason to upgrade your entire network, it’s still a great feature that we’re sure you could likely benefit from.

#5. Connect Everything

Ten years ago, we were all just babies when it came to connection. Remember taking pictures on your digital camera then connecting it to your computer with a USB cable? You know, like a caveman?

Now you can link your phone to Windows and have pictures, videos, weblinks and more instantly available on your workstation. You can also connect screens with a colleague or customer without having to download third-party software and go through a long process of trading logins. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you can upload and backup your documents using OneDrive. This is a great tool if you’re a very small operation or as a backup to your backup in a larger business.

#6. Your Software Has Already Moved

One of the many arguments we hear about is the cost and hassle of purchasing and installing new software. Sure, it might be a small investment to get with the times. but you know what? There are companies out there using software that runs on MS-DOS, too! You can only justify not upgrading for so long before you become obsolete.

Sure, there are indeed unique custom software programs that large companies — such as banks and hospitals — use that would cost millions of dollars to upgrade and migrate. However, for 99% percent of the rest of us, it’s best to just suck it up and move on with our lives. There are few if any programs out there that can’t migrate that are worth keeping around. Chances are that if your software hasn’t upgraded, there are probably a dozen others available that can do the job better.

#7. New Features

Wow, this is a big one. We could dedicate a month’s worth of articles about the new features between Windows 7 and 10. You’ll find new features that used to only be available with expensive third-party systems such as advanced voice-to-text recognition. Some updated features are beefed-up copy and paste abilities, the ability to edit screenshots, virtual desktops and even a digital assistant — Cortana.

At the end of the day, you really do need to upgrade no matter what. If you’re still part of the undistinguished group of Windows 7 users who aren’t sure what the next step would be in upgrading, we’d be happy to talk with you and go over your options.