Windows 7 support is about to end, with 46,000 HSE devices still running the OS

13 Jan 2020

Image: PA Media

PC users are being told to upgrade from Windows 7 to prevent cyberattacks as support for the operating system comes to an end. However, the HSE still has 46,000 devices to upgrade.

PC users running Windows 7 have been warned to upgrade to avoid possible cyberattacks as support for the software ends.

The 10-year-old operating system will no longer receive critical updates from Tuesday (14 January) onwards, meaning Microsoft will stop patching any weaknesses that appear, making machines vulnerable to hacker attacks.

According to NetMarketShare’s estimations for the end of 2019, Windows 7 is still one of the most popular Windows operating systems with a 32.7pc global share, second only to Microsoft’s most recent version, Windows 10, at 47.7pc.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has told the public not to access banking, emails or other services containing sensitive information from devices on Windows 7 due to the high risk.

‘Replace unsupported devices as soon as possible’

End of support is a long-running measure by Microsoft, as it shifts from dated technologies and increases focus on newer ones.

“The NCSC would encourage people to upgrade devices currently running Windows 7, allowing them to continue receiving software updates which help protect their devices,” an NCSC spokesperson said.

“We would urge those using the software after the deadline to replace unsupported devices as soon as possible, to move sensitive data to a supported device, and not to use them for tasks like accessing bank and other sensitive accounts. They should also consider accessing email from a different device.”

Affected computers will remain functional but will no longer be secure.

Companies that may not be ready for the move can choose to pay Microsoft for extended security updates through to January 2023 – though it is sold on a per-device basis and the price will increase each year, to encourage businesses to upgrade.

Around 80pc of the HSE’s devices running Windows 7

One such organisation paying for the extended security updates is Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE). Last Thursday (9 January), it emerged that the Government would spend €1.1m to extend security support for the operating system.

The HSE launched a programme to begin the migration to Windows 10 in 2017, but it has been a slow process as many of the applications used in the Irish health system require extensive testing on the new operating system before the older systems can be fully replaced.

The HSE confirmed that the health service still has 46,000 Windows 7 devices on its network of 58,000 computers. With only 12,000 devices upgraded, the affected number of devices amounts to around 80pc of the HSE’s computers.

Around 12,000 devices cannot be replaced until 2021, HSE chief information officer Fran Thompson told the Irish Independent, when the HSE radiology systems are upgraded.

‘Value for money’

A spokesperson for the HSE said that, in an average year, the health service replaces around 7,500 desktops and laptops. “In 2020, the plan is to increase this number to a total of 13,500 devices, by bringing forward those devices due for replacement in 2021 by one year, as upgrading these in 2020 would not be value for money,” they continued.

“Negotiations were carried out with Microsoft in order to achieve the best value for money for this service. The cost is approximately €1.1m for Windows 7. It was decided by the executive management team to avail of this extended support.”

The HSE annual IT budget for replacing and purchasing new devices will now be increased by €5m to €11m in order to replace a number of the affected devices.

It has been five years since Microsoft began warning customers that support for Windows 7 would end in 2020.

– With reporting from PA

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic