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  • Keep Running Windows 7 Safely for Years to Come

    Home Forums AskWoody support Windows Windows 7 Win7 beyond End-of-life Keep Running Windows 7 Safely for Years to Come

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        As Windows 7 approaches the expected end of monthly security patching next January, Windows 7 users who have hesitated to switch to Windows 10 face the critical choice of whether to accept Microsoft’s newest operating system; to switch to an altogether different platform such as Linux, Mac, or Chrome OS; or to look for a way to protect their favorite OS into 2020 and beyond.

        In my case, I have decided to implement a multi-layered defense strategy which, I am confident, will make it possible to use Windows 7 without worries while I continue the slow transition to Linux (Kubuntu). The defensive layers include, in no particular order:

        * Resident anti-virus software. My main Windows 7 machine is currently on BitDefender Free, but there are many other good free and paid AV solutions out there.

        * Resident anti-exploit software. Several choices are available, such as Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit (MBAE) and Microsoft’s own EMET, but I use HitmanPro.Alert as it also offers keystroke encryption.

        * On-demand scanners to catch any baddies that might have gotten past the main defenders. I cycle a variety of free scanners including Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free (MBAM), Sophos Virus Removal Tool, F-Secure Online Scanner, Norton Power Eraser, and ESET Online Scanner. (Once again, there are others, free and paid.) At least occasionally, run the rootkit scanning feature, if available (usually requires a reboot).

        * Use a Web traffic-filtering browser extension such as Norton Safe Web or Bitdefender TrafficLight, and/or a security-oriented public DNS resolver such as Quad9, for your Web browsing.

        * Keep your router firmware updated, if possible, and consider increasing the router’s hardware firewall settings (it may come set to a medium level that’s less hassle, but offers lower protection). Learn how to block websites and URLs at the router.

        * Use a software firewall that will explicitly ask your permission when new programs try to access the Internet for any reason. Over time, you will train the firewall to allow trusted programs and the number of notifications will fall to just new (and possibly unknown) programs. ZoneAlarm Free Firewall is set to ask you “out of the box.”

        * Keep your browsers (plus their extensions/plugins) and other programs updated.

        * Use ad-blocking extensions on your browsers, as malvertising is one of the main sources of infection nowadays. My main choice for this is uBlock Origin, although I’ve also used Ghostery.

        * Change your Windows account from the default administrator account to a standard user account, which has fewer rights to install software and make changes to the system. (You will have to enter a password to do those sorts of things.) This prevents malware from exploiting your administrator status to make changes behind your back, and research suggests that this one measure alone prevents upward of 90% of attacks.

        * Use an extensive Hosts file to stop your computer from being led to sites that serve up malware. I also use it to block Facebook, which some researchers claim follows you around the Web even if you don’t have a Facebook account. You can obtain ample Hosts files from here or here.

        * Additional protections: I have installed OSArmor by NoVirusThanks and have had a good experience with it. The program, over time, builds a whitelist of programs that you have approved to run on your PC. I am also considering BlackFog Privacy and VoodooShield as useful, supplemental layers of defense; reports on the security community Wilders Security indicates a high degree of compatibility and satisfaction for both of these products.

        * I am evaluating 0patch, by Acros Security. This is a service that injects on-the-fly patches to software that no longer receives updates from its vendor. I am currently using it on a Vista test machine and have experienced no problems, although I’m not sure yet how useful it might be as it has rarely kicked in to do its thing. For a more thorough test, I may need to install 0patch on my main Vista PC, but for now at least I’ve determined that it doesn’t make Vista crash or slow down. When Windows 7 goes EOS, 0patch could conceivably fill in for the bulk of security patches that Win7 will not receive.

        * Finally, back up the PC (data and programs) regularly. If all else fails and you get infected, you will then have a reasonably current copy of your computer that you can install over the infected system. There are numerous image backup solutions out there; I use the free version of Macrium Reflect.

        * * * * *
        You might think that there is considerable overlap in the kinds of protection offered by the above set of measures. And you would be right: the defenses feature a moat, trenches, walls, minefields, sentries, snipers, archers, machine-gun nests, early-warning systems, Patriot missiles, deflector shields, and an escape tunnel. I have deliberately built redundancy into the strategy, so that whatever one misses another one will stop. I’ve neither experienced nor heard of any incompatibilities affecting computer usability. (The only caution is to avoid using multiple resident AV programs at the same time, for example BitDefender and Kaspersky.)

        Is this paranoid? No more so than the folks who tell us that you must patch right now or you’re doomed, or that you must upgrade to Windows 10 when Win7 goes EOS or you’re doomed.

        With this combination of defensive measures, I have every confidence that my Win7 box will remain well protected for as long as I care to use it. So long as security vendors continue to support Windows 7, and Win7 browsers continue to load websites, I don’t see any great impediment to keeping this Windows 7 system connected to the Internet for the foreseeable future.


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