Windows 7 remains an albatross at many large organizations

Among 60,000 large companies analyzed by security ratings company BitSight, almost 90% still have Windows 7 PCs in their environment.

How to protect your Windows 7 computers and data after Microsoft cuts off support With no bug fixes or patches available for Windows 7 after Jan. 14, Veritas CIO John Abel offers tips to safeguard the PCs in your organization.

On January 14, Microsoft ended extended support for Windows 7 , meaning no more bug fixes, security patches, or other updates to address any newly discovered vulnerabilities. But the aging operating system is still hanging on for many organizations. Some companies may have yet to migrate to a supported OS, while others are likely in the midst of a migration. Yet even companies that have "officially" migrated to Windows 10 may have some stray Windows 7 PCs in their midst.

SEE: What to do if you're still running Windows 7 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Among the 60,000 organizations studied over the past 60 days by BitSight's data science team, 70% were using Windows 7 in some capacity. But the use of Windows 7 was not typically universal among the companies analyzed. At 51% of the organizations examined, Windows 7 was found on more than one in ten machines. At 32% of them, the OS was found on more than one in four computers.

Further, Windows 7 use is more pervasive at large companies. Almost 90% of organizations with more than 10,000 employees are still running Windows 7, compared with only 61% of those with less than 1,000. The larger and more complex the company, the more challenging and time-consuming it can be to accomplish a mass migration of all users and PCs.

Windows 7 usage among industries

Among different sectors, education showed the biggest Windows 7 deployment rate at 84%, followed by government at 82%. Technology companies recorded the lowest deployment of the OS at 56%. In the retail, transportation, manufacturing, and healthcare industries, just over 40% of companies have Windows 7 on more than 25% of their machines. But in the education sector, only 12% of organizations are using it on more than 25% of their computers.

In the financial and healthcare sectors, Windows 7 use is significantly higher for larger companies. In the financial industry, 89% of those with more than 10,000 employees are still using the OS versus 56% for those with fewer than 1,000. In healthcare, 93% of companies with more than 10,000 employees are using Windows 7 versus 68% for those with fewer than 1,000.

Further, 45% of healthcare companies and 46% of financial firms with more than 10,000 employees are using Windows 7 on more than 25% of their computers.

Protection options for Windows 7 users

If your organization still has Windows 7 computers that you need to protect, you do have some options.

First, if you haven't already done so, you'll want to take a complete inventory to see how many Windows 7 PCs are still in use. You'll then need to determine exactly what's required to upgrade those PCs. Beyond looking at general office or corporate computers, remember to track any computers used with laboratory equipment and other external systems.

"In addition to office computers, there are likely still many industrial control systems and other connected devices that run on Windows 7," Tom Montroy, data scientist at BitSight, said. "In situations like that, migration can be especially tough and costly since the companies may need to interact directly with the manufacturer to perform the upgrade."

Yes, a migration away from Windows 7 can be expensive and time-consuming. But remember that all it takes is one security incident against a PC running an unsupported operating system to potentially affect your network.

To protect your Windows 7 computers as you migrate, consider buying Extended Security Updates from Microsoft. Designed to temporarily shore up your security, these updates apply the necessary patches as needed. But such updates are pricey and will only be available for another three years. So ultimately, you should still move forward with a Windows 10 migration.

Using its data collection process, BitSight is able to analyze companies (and specific machines within those companies) that have moved away from Windows 7 and those that have not. Though this non-intrusive process, the company gathers more than 200 billion IT "events" daily from across the internet to generate security ratings for more than 200,000 organizations.

Also see

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The Windows 7 desktop.

Image: TechRepublic