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  • Keep Running Windows 7 Safely for Years to Come

    Posted on Cybertooth Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

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

    This topic contains 9 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  JohnW 1 week ago.

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    • #2000524 Reply

      Cybertooth
      AskWoody Plus

      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.

       

      12 users thanked author for this post.
    • #2001018 Reply

      anonymous

      On the assumption that you/we are most likely to have problems when browsing online, you could also consider running your browser in a sandbox (most of the time).

      I have long used Sandboxie for this and there was an introductory guide on the gHacks site recently if you are interested: https://www.ghacks.net/2019/10/29/how-to-use-sandboxie-for-browsing-downloading-and-installing-programs/

      You will need to run your browser outside the sandbox occasionally to pick up and keep browser updates and any extension updates. I normally use Firebox and have its update setting to inform me when there is an update, but not to actually download and update, so that I can update after leaving the sandbox. I also have uBlockOrigin (uBO) automatic updates switched off, but start Firefox and manually update uBO every few days. For convenience I allow bookmarks saved in the sandbox to be retained on leaving the sandbox. I run Thunderbird for e-mail in a similar way.

      I have no experience using Sandboxie to try out programs as the article suggests.

      My only slight doubt mentioning Sandboxie is that after several changes of ownership its future development is unclear (see https://www.ghacks.net/2019/09/10/sandbox-program-sandboxie-is-now-freeware-soon-open-source/ ), particularly as I believe that Sophos itself is/may be changing ownership.

      Some security products e.g. Comodo have their own sandbox features.

      HTH. Garbo.

      3 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2001024 Reply

        Cybertooth
        AskWoody Plus

        Thanks, Garbo. I have to admit that I haven’t given sandboxing a lot of thought. Maybe my logic is flawed, but the way I see it is that whatever I’m doing in the sandbox, sooner or later I’ll be saving or printing something, which means it has to come out of the sandbox (right?) and if that’s infected then it will try to attack my computer at that point anyway. I do a lot of saving of Web articles to PDF, so it’s not an unusual scenario for me.

        Probably I don’t have an adequate understanding of sandboxing technology, but the above logic (for what it’s worth) is the reason I haven’t looked at it very hard.

         

        • #2001053 Reply

          anonymous

          A more complete guide, and what was my tutorial to Sandboxie when I started with it, can be found at: https://www.techsupportalert.com/content/introduction-and-quick-guide-sandboxie.htm

          It is true that you will want some downloaded files and data printed to PDF files to be recovered out of the sandbox, but you are in control of what these are. I download to the “Downloads” folder and always print (using CutePDF) to this folder (even if I’ll move the PDF file later). I have Sandboxie immediately prompt me whenever something is “downloaded” in this way so I can immediately decide what to do with it (recover/leave/delete) before I forget what I’ve been doing (at the end of session). Other stuff downloaded beyond what I have explicitly downloaded can be seen and filtered out before reaching the real PC. On exit anything left is deleted. (You can overwrite whatever is deleted for a more secure deletion e.g. using Sysinternals “sdelete”.)

          Other changes the webpage may try to make to the system do not get outside of the sandbox unless you have allowed it in the settings. Beyond the default settings I have allowed bookmarks to be added/deleted, but this is a compromise. There are lists of possibilities for common programs in the settings.

          I have been using it since 2013, so I no longer really think about it 🙂

          HTH. Garbo.

           

          1 user thanked author for this post.
          • #2001162 Reply

            Cybertooth
            AskWoody Plus

            That does look like it would make a valuable addition to post-EOS Windows 7 computing. It’s a little work, but surely not more than using a standard Windows account instead of an administrator account.

            I knew that Sophos might be bought by another company, but I didn’t know that Sophos had bought Sandboxie.

             

        • #2001576 Reply

          AlexEiffel
          AskWoody_MVP

          I don’t think the biggest threat is the pdfs you download.

          Sandboxing would be useful to help prevent some unrecognized threats, 0-days, drive-by downloads that automatically infect a vulnerable system without needing you to download anything. Fileless malware is a tricky one and sandboxing could add a layer of protection that would supplement what you already have. The anti-exploit is already a great step-up, but sandboxing is another useful tool to your arsenal that brings a different type of protection.

          I use Firefox to read downloaded pdfs most of the time when it works, so it reduces the risk of being infected by some malware that would need some of Adobe’s capabilities or vulnerabilities to be triggered. Another little step to reduce the risk of being infected. Firefox could have different vulnerabilities of course, but the capabilities are limited and it is probably not the first target for pdf injected malware.

          1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #2003420 Reply

      JohnW
      AskWoody Plus

      On the topic of browsing being the biggest risk, I have found that the comprehensive filter lists in uBlock Origin seem to be effective in preventing me from accidentally connecting to potentially dodgy website domains, when clicking on links in web pages or emails.

      So that appears to be an excellent protection layer for keeping away from the scripted type of attacks lurking in some website code.

      As a backup layer for that, anti-exploit software would be good idea for stopping an attack that was able to gain access to your system, and hopefully prevent encryption or exfiltration of your data before the damage is done.

      And finally, making disk images that you can easily restore your PC from, if necessary, is a very effective way to remove a malware infestation. And get your encrypted data back.

      2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2003446 Reply

        Cybertooth
        AskWoody Plus

        +1

        And as a bonus, aside from uBlock Origin serving as one of the layers of defense, ever since installing it my Web page loads have gotten a lot faster, as the pages aren’t weighted down by flashing ads, autoplay videos, and assorted other bandwidth hogs.

        2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #2004176 Reply

      Charlie
      AskWoody Plus

      It seems you can’t get just the Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit alone.  I went to the website in the link and the Anti-Exploit has now been built into the Malwarebytes Anti-Malware program.  I’ve got Ublock Origin running in Firefox 70.0.1 and I’m not bothered by much.

      Win 7 Home Premium, x64, Intel i3-2120 3.3GHz, Groups B & L

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