Why, you may ask, is the cybersecurity guy dealing with the issue of how old is too old for a computer? The answer is actually fairly simple.
While computer hardware is more durable now than a decade ago, software is still critical to its operation. Readers of this column know that one of my mantras is to always keep your operating system and your applications updated. Despite what they may say, most updates from software and computer vendors are there to plug security holes. New vulnerabilities are uncovered almost daily and the bad guys are always not far behind, if not a step ahead. By keeping your software updated, you can be as secure as possible.
However, as hardware ages, newer applications and newer versions of computer operating system will no longer work on older devices. Software vendors and computer operating system manufacturers always have a window going back several years in which they will supply security updates. So even if your 10-year-old computer still can get on the web and do word processing, its operating system and applications may not be getting updated regularly.
An example is Microsoft Windows 7. One of the most popular versions of Windows in many years, it was installed on computers by hardware makers for almost a decade. Microsoft, however, moved on—first with Windows 8, then 10 and now 11. Support (meaning updates) for Windows 7 ceased in 2021. If your computer is still running Windows 7, you have not been protected against security vulnerabilities for more than two years. It’s also a fact that the bad guys know this very well and have found holes they have exploited since upgrades have stopped. Your Windows 7 computer also likely cannot be updated to Windows 10 or 11, simply because of increased hardware requirements for those newer operating systems.
Apple computers also have this limitation. As a company policy, Apple provides security updates only for the current version of the Mac operating system, and the two most recent versions before that. Apple suggests that you always upgrade to the latest version of the operating system and makes this upgrade free. However, Apple hardware older than seven years is incompatible with these newest releases.
Web browsers are also subject to this limitation. Those of you with older computers may get periodic nagware messages from Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari saying the latest version cannot be installed. As web browsers are a major path for malware to arrive on your computer, this is a serious limitation.
Apart from cybersecurity, older computers may be costing you money. Slower hardware, such as hard disks, mean tasks take you longer. Advances in chip design also translate into devices that use less power, and your electricity bill may well be suffering if you’re still using that 10-year-old laptop.
A good rule of thumb is if the thought has occurred you that you need a new computer, you probably do. Also remember to recycle your old devices–whether through Albemarle County’s E-waste day (twice a year) or at one of several local businesses that offer this service.