On 14th January this year Windows 7 reached End of Life. Many U3As and their members still use Windows 7, so should they be concerned? What should they do? And can Beacon help?
But first, what does End of Life mean in this context? It’s a technical term but means what you think it means. So far as Microsoft is concerned, Windows 7 is no more. For most customers there is no longer any kind of support for Windows 7. No new features, no problem fixes, and no security updates. It’s this last point that really matters.
Computers have suffered from viruses and other nasties, collectively known as malware, for decades. Early malware was written by teenagers testing their ability to disrupt, but now malware is produced by organised criminals. It’s a multi-billion pound industry, and it wants your money, whether you’re an individual, a business or a U3A.
Malware exploits vulnerabilities in software. Despite what some computer evangelicals tell you, all software is vulnerable. But the criminals direct their attacks where they expect the greatest return on their investment. Traditionally that has meant Windows PCs.
Parts of Windows are old, written at a time when software security just wasn’t seen as important. Windows is a huge piece of software that does thousands of different things, meaning there are thousands of avenues for the bad guys to explore. Windows has had countless vulnerabilities fixed, but it’s inevitable that there are many more, undiscovered, that will now never be corrected in Windows 7. They may all, at any time, be discovered and exploited by criminals.
So, what should you do? If it’s a home computer that you use for email and a little web browsing you could just take your chances. Do exactly what you should already be doing. Regularly back up your important files, and test restoring some of them to make sure that you can. Make sure you have all Windows updates in place. Keep your anti-virus up to date. Above all, be very careful when you receive an email that’s unexpected or when you visit an unfamiliar website.
If you have anything on the machine that you really don’t want to lose, such as your lifelong music collection, your family photos or your U3A membership database, then you should no longer use Windows 7. Upgrade to Windows 10, or move to the latest version of another platform such as Mac or Linux if that’s your thing. But always take the precautions listed in the previous paragraph.
It isn’t only Windows 7 that’s reached End of Life. All products have a similar life-cycle. Office 2010 and 2013 are also out of support so they, too, are vulnerable and should be replaced. Modern systems such as Google Docs and Office 365 are free to U3As and provide many benefits as well as being constantly updated.
But the malware problem goes deeper. Do you have Flash Player on your computer? Java? You might have both without knowing, and they’ve both been affected by a huge number of vulnerabilities. Uninstall both. If something you do really needs one of them it’ll tell you and you can install it again. Just make sure it’s kept bang up-to-date.
Probably the most dangerous form of malware these days is ransomware, such as the WannaCry attack that hit the NHS so hard in 2018. Ransomware encrypts all your data, making it useless. By the time you know the malware’s there your backups may be infected, too. You’ll then see a message telling you how to get your data back. Naturally, this involves a payment to the criminals. Many individuals and businesses simply pay up. It’s expensive and it encourages criminality, but at least you get your stuff back. Sometimes.
There’s a lot to be said for keeping important data, such as U3A membership and financial data, somewhere that’s safer than the average home PC, which is at risk not only from malware but also from loss, theft, breakdown and inadequate (or no) backups. Beacon stores your data in a data centre on servers. These systems are inherently less prone to malware than your home PC, are less attractive to criminals, are managed by administrators who understand computer security and are fully backed up.
Beacon reduces risk to your U3A. It’s that simple.
To request a demo go to https://beacon.u3a.org.uk/contact-us/.