As many as one in six computer users could be left at a higher risk of online banking fraud, after Microsoft pulled the plug on security support for Windows 7 last week.
The popular operating system, estimated by website StatsCounter to be used by almost 17 per cent of Windows PCs in Britain, will no longer have any flaws or issues patched.
As increasing numbers of people use the internet as their primary means of banking and shopping, many may be worried about their security, especially if they’re not in a position to buy a brand new computer.
Both the National Cyber Security Centre – part of GCHQ – and the police force behind reporting service Action Fraud have told those using Windows 7 to avoid it for online banking or for accessing other sensitive accounts.
Microsoft pulled the plug on support for the 11-year-old operating system on Tuesday 14 January, urging those still using Windows 7 to upgrade to Windows 10
This is Money has asked experts about what you can do next if you’re worried about your security.
What happens now?
As anyone who tried to turn on their PC last Wednesday can attest, Microsoft no longer supporting the 2009 operating system does not mean it will no longer work, nor that people will be infected with hundreds of viruses overnight.
Instead, it means any vulnerabilities will no longer be fixed, meaning users may become more vulnerable over time.
Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist at antivirus provider ESET, said: ‘Windows 7 users leave themselves open to multiple vulnerabilities on this now outdated operating system.
‘If users are choosing to move forward with it, they could be preyed upon by cyber-criminal gangs who can search to see who are still using it.
‘The ransomware attack that affected the NHS in 2017 was possible due to outdated software that was not patched and updated.
‘This will be another way that threat actors will try to exploit and extort people using Windows 7.’
What should you do about online banking?
Likely, the most concerned will be those using the Windows 7 operating system on computers for online banking.
Consumers are often inundated with stories about stolen banking details being auctioned off online, or about hacks putting personal, bank and card details at risk.
Mr Moore added: ‘Online banking lends itself to being an attraction to cyber criminals who are eager to exploit any given vulnerability.
Action Fraud, run by the City of London Police, urged people not to use Windows 7 for online banking anymore
‘If hackers were to create something called a key logger and deploy it on a PC, users would be at risk of having all of their keystrokes (including usernames and passwords) monitored and copied by the criminals.
‘This opens up a huge problem to users and puts their money at risk.’
According to trade body UK Finance, instances of remote purchase fraud, where criminals use stolen card details to buy things on the internet, ticked up 16 per cent in the first half of 2019 compared to the same six months in 2018.
£237.4million was stolen in the first six months of last year.
The City of London Police told This is Money: ‘We would also urge people to avoid accessing sensitive online accounts, such as online banking or email accounts, on devices running Windows 7.’
One alternative in the short-term might be to sign up for mobile banking.
All big banks offer mobile apps, and new EU fraud prevention rules Britain has signed up to have meant they have recently had to bump up the security required to log-in.
Plenty also allow you to set up biometric authorisation, which means you can only log on using your fingerprint or use your voice for telephone banking – both of which have been described as safer than using traditional passwords.
Ashley Hart, head of fraud at TSB, said: ‘We always recommend that customers install the latest updates for their devices, and when a product is no longer supported they should consider upgrading.
‘As time elapses, the risk of vulnerabilities targeting users Windows 7 being exploited by fraudsters increases.’
This is Money has contacted a number of big banks who have encouraged customers to move to online services, including Barclays, HSBC and NatWest, for their advice on Windows 7.
HSBC will contact customers potentially at risk, but at time of publication we did not receive a response from either Barclays or NatWest.
If in doubt, contact your bank, building society and other financial firms you use to get up-to-date information.
How can you ensure your PC is protected?
The City of London Police added: ‘We strongly recommend that people upgrade their Windows 7 devices as soon as possible, allowing them to continue receiving software updates that help protect their devices.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Microsoft has encouraged users to purchase a new PC which comes with its latest operating system, Windows 10, used by around three quarters of Windows computers.
Around 5 per cent of desktops instead use either Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.
These operating systems will no longer be supported at all by Microsoft in January 2023, and are currently in a phase known as extended support, a halfway house where users are offered paid support.
Installing Windows 10 Home on a Windows 7 PC will cost you £119.99, while Microsoft offers a quiz which will determine whether or not you should purchase the operating system on an existing PC or buy a new one which comes Windows 10 installed by default.
If you are looking for a new laptop to run Windows 10, prices from Argos start from £179.99, and prices from Currys PC World from £169.
Meanwhile, desktop computers start from £219.99 from Argos and £249 from Currys PC World.
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