The recent WannaCry ransomware attack demonstrates the importance of automatic security updates.
No matter how careful you are, malware could exploit a security hole
over the network and gain control of your system unless you install
security patches.
But Microsoft doesn’t support every version of Windows forever, and
there are different types of support. For example, Windows 7 is no
longer receiving “mainstream support”, but is receiving “extended
support”what does that mean?

What’s the Difference Between Mainstream Support and Extended Support?

There are two main levels of support: Mainstream support and extended
support. When a Windows operating system is first released, Microsoft
provides mainstream support for five years. The operating system will
receive security updates, free support via telephone or web chat,
and bug fixes that aren’t security related.
After leaving mainstream support, the operating system transitions to
extended support for another five years. The operating system will
still receive security updates, but you’ll have to pay if you want
telephone or web chat support from Microsoft. Businesses can pay for
“Extended Hotfix Support” to request fixes for bugs that aren’t related
to security.
Both mainstream support and extended support include free security
updates. So, while Windows 7 is currently in its extended support
period, there’s nothing to worry about in terms of security it will
continue receiving free security updates until the support period ends.
You just need to make sure you enable updates, or you won’t get the security fixes you need, and may be vulnerable to new attacks like WannaCry.

You Must Have the Latest Service Pack (or Update)

While security updates are provided through the mainstream and
extended support periods that last for a total of ten years, you have to
be running the latest service pack or version of the operating system
to stay eligible. But you don’t have to rush to update.
Microsoft gives you 24 months to install a service pack or free
update, during which time it continues updating both the old version and
new version. So, when Windows 7’s Service Pack 1 came out, Microsoft
updated both the original release and Service Pack 1 versions of Windows
7 with security updates for two years. After that point, the original
release of Windows 7 stopped receiving security updates. Windows 7 is
still receiving security updates today, but only if you install Service
Pack 1.
To continue receiving security updates for Windows 10, you must
install major updates like the Creators Update. Microsoft won’t continue
updating every release of Windows 10 forever. Each
individual update like the November Update, Anniversary Update, and Creators Update will
keep receiving security updates for two years. That way, businesses
that are holding back should have plenty of time to upgrade.
Microsoft has announced that the original release of Windows 10 that’s version 1507 will no longer receive security update starting in May, 2017.

What Happens After Mainstream and Extended Support?

For most people, after the ten year period of mainstream and extended
support ends, that’s it. You won’t receive any security updates for
your version of Windows.
However, there are some ways around this. Microsoft offers “custom
support relationships” to organizations that are still running outdated
versions of Windows, and it creates and releases security updates for
them. There are still organizations paying for Windows XP security
patches, and Microsoft is still creating them. However, you can’t get them as a normal Windows user.
You can only get them if you’re an organization prepared to shell out a
large amount of money. Microsoft’s long-term goal is to encourage these
organizations to upgrade and leave Windows XP behind.
Microsoft will also sometimes release security updates to the general
public for particularly bad security holes. This happens very rarely,
isn’t guaranteed, and the security updates may only be released after
the brunt of the attack. For example, Microsoft released security updates
that patch the hole abused by the WannaCry malware for Windows XP,
Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003, which are no longer officially
This isn’t something to count on. Microsoft only released these
patches after the malware ran wild and exploited the bug. People who
were running a supported version of Windows and installing the latest
security updates a security patch was released to fix the hole in March, nearly two months before the attack were protected when the attack occurred, not afterwards.

When Will Microsoft End Support for Windows 7, 8, and 10?

Microsoft always lays out the exact dates when it will end support for a version of Windows in the Windows lifecycle fact sheet, available on Microsoft’s website. Here’s what it says:
  • Windows 7 is supported with security updates until the end of
    extended support on January 14, 2020. You must have Service Pack 1
    installed to get updates.
  • Windows 8.1 is supported with security updates until the end of
    extended support on January 10, 2023. You must have updated to Windows
    8.1 to get updates the original version of Windows 8 isn’t supported
    with updates anymore.
  • Windows 10 is supported with security updates until October 14,
    2025. You must have the latest update to Windows 10 installed to keep
    receiving updates until 2025. (That’s the Creators Update, right now.)
Microsoft could extend these dates if they want and they sometimes
do but these are the dates they’re officially committed to at the
moment. Microsoft won’t end support before these dates.
Older versions of Windows are no longer in extended support. and no
longer receive security updates. Windows Vista’s extended support period
ended on April 11, 2017, more than ten years after it was first
released. Windows XP’s extended support period ended on April 8, 2014,
twelve and a half years after it was first released. While Microsoft
may occasionally toss these outdated operating systems a security patch,
they’re no longer safe to use.

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