End of Windows 7

What are some of the potential problems for an organization trying to secure Windows 7? Cyber Security Experts Lee Neubecker and Atahan Bozdag say it’s analogous to owning a home and not maintaining it, eventually something breaks and it’ll cost you a fortune to fix!

Securing Windows 7 Environments

On January 14, 2020, Microsoft announced support for Windows 7 has ended. As reported by Microsoft, “Technical assistance and software updates from Windows Update that help protect your PC are no longer available for the product. Microsoft strongly recommends that you move to Windows 10 to avoid a situation where you need service or support that is no longer available.” It’s official…it’s the end of Windows 7! We have to end our love affair with Windows 7 and move onto Windows 10. What does that mean for the end-user? Well, if you stay on Windows 7, you will deal with constant security threats, and there will be no more updates or support. If you upgrade it’ll cost you approximately $139 for a home computer, $199 for a small to large business and $309 to upgrade a workstation that needs a faster powerful operating system.

Cyber Security & Computer Forensic Expert Lee Neubecker and “Fellow Forensicator” Atahan Bodzdag break down what impact is imposed on cyber security when computers no longer receive service patch updates or support for Windows 7. They discuss the usage of Windows 7 by the Health Care organizations that are resistant to change or have application that have not been ported to work with Windows 10.

Atahan Bodzdag provides an overview of top three items that all organizations dependent on Windows 7 should be undertaking to maintain cyber security resilience.

Window 7 Security Vulnerabilities

The Video Transcript Follows

Lee Neubecker: Hi, I’m here today with Adahan Bozdag. Thank you for being on the show Adahan.

Atahan Bozdag: Thank you for inviting me, Lee.

LN: Atahan is a fellow forensicator and cybersecurity expert. He works within the healthcare sector and works internally to an organization, doing some of the things I do as an expert witness outside an organization. And today we’re going to be talking about Windows 7, the end of the life cycle of Windows 7, and some of the cybersecurity issues relating to organizations that are in Windows 7 and are trying to prevent future data breaches. So, Adahan, could you tell everyone a little bit about what Microsoft did recently as it relates to Windows 7?

AB: Well, as you said, Windows 7 end of life cycle happened. It’s was January 14, 2020. They stop patching Windows 7 environment, so it is vulnerable to any attack after the date. January 14, 2020.

LN: So then when people report their CVEs, detailing vulnerabilities on Windows 7, eventually they’re up there for the hacker world to see. and to exploit because Microsoft’s not patching that operating system.

AB: Very true. It’s a dream come true for the hackers.

LN: Yeah, well, no more data patches means what exactly?

AB: It means that you are more vulnerable to attacks.

LN: So every day the risk of cyber compromise only grows for organizations still on Windows 7.

AB: Very true.

LN: So, what is for the non-technical person out there, could you explain what this is analogous to?

AB: Well, I can give you the house analogy. You buy a house and you don’t do any upgrades. You don’t do any maintenance. Something is going to break. So this is what’s going to happen with Windows 7. Because there’s no more patch, there are no more updates, there’s no more security involved in it. At one point if you still continue using it, you will get breached.

LN: So, it’s kind of like your locks start to fall off the door at a particular time

AB: Exactly, exactly.

LN: And if you consider the contents of a health care provider, to have sensitive data like patient medical records, electronic medical records, protected health care information, or PII, all of that stuff is vulnerable to exfiltration?

AB: Yes, very, yes.

LN: So, why are people still using Windows 7, given this threat?

AB: Well, some applications are not upgraded to work with Windows 10, and what happens. So then a lot of people working in the corporate environment are resistant to change because the applications are not working with Windows 10. So those,

LN: Or they just like the cleanness of Windows 7, relative to Windows 10, which

AB: Yes

LN: It has a lot of bloatware loaded on it if you’re getting the version off the shelf.

AB: True, true.

LN: Who really needs to have all these games on their environment?

AB: Exactly. But at the same time, every healthcare company that, you know, even my company that I’m working for, we have a golden image that we create, which are stripped down from all those games and stuff like that. So we don’t use those. But, to get there, there is always an image needs to be updated in Windows 10.

LN: So what are some of the potential problems for the organization that stays on Windows 7 and just doesn’t get with the program to migrate off?

AB: Well, first thing is, APT.

LN: What’s an APT?

AB: APT is an Advanced Persistent Threat.

LN: That’s like that nation-state, Big Brother lurking on the chips of the computer device, waiting for a moment to attack, right?

AB: They can infiltrate you. They can do nothing, just sit and wait, and look at your data. And we have seen that in many breaches. The time that you found out that the company was breached, they’ve been in the system for more than six, seven months. So they were collecting data slowly by slowly, and at one point they turned the engine on, and then the doomsday attack starts. Suddenly you start losing data. Deletion happens and then, they grab everything out from your system.

LN: “So there’ ve been a lot of nation-states making threats.

AB: Oh, very much so.

LN: This could be a huge opportunity for certain nation-states to get themselves onto hackable systems and merely wait until the opportune time to strike is such that they could magnify the damage.

AB: Exactly.

LN: We have a power outage,

AB: Yes.

LN: And they were to strike at that time, that would probably magnify the damage significantly.

AB: Very, very much. And now you’ve been talking about those in your other videos about these kinds of things. The cyber realm is another way of attacking our national interests. Health care is one of them.

LN: So let’s assume that an APT gets into a health care environment, health care provider’s systems, and they’re able to access electronic medical records, EMR, patient health care information, what might they want to do with that information?

AB: Well, patient records, especially the names, social security numbers, medical records, everything is sellable in the Darkweb.

LN: And it’s worth a lot more than just giving social security numbers.

AB: It is. True. It’s like a single record may go for $35. If you got about 10,000 records, 10,000 records times about $35.

LN: It’s likewise though, that data exfiltrates, and it gets out there in the market, the health care providers are looking at potentially significant financial damages, as well as reputational damage.

AB: Yes, yes. Because when these things happen, suddenly you have to report this either to the government or to the media. And then afterward the penalties will come. And investigations cost a lot of money. Penalties are really severe And doing all of these things, and if you’re still in the Windows 7 environment you’re actually opening yourself to these kinds of attacks.

LN: Yeah so, when these data incidents happen, as you like to call them, what do you see the role of internal IT investigations versus an outside computer forensic firm like myself specializes in data breaches and EMR. What is the typical role and function of the internal versus the outside expert witness?

AB: Internal it’s you know like myself, we do the investigation internally but we would love to hire, I mean we would like to hire an outside investigation, to give unbiased information. Saying that if you go to the legal ways that you will be able to say that hey, I’m not involved with this company I’m doing this…

LN: Sometimes, there’s benefit to having an outside forensic expert that’s independent speak only to the issues that are relevant and not necessarily have a knowledge of who was in IT that got fired or any of that other stuff that isn’t really relevant to the investigation but could create risk for the health care provider.

AB: True. True.

LN: So with regard to reporting obligations, let’s say you find that there was indeed exfiltration of patient data and that information left the organization, what are the reporting obligations?

AB: Well the best way that I can tell right now is if you were at the hhs.gov or consult your attorney it will actually tell you especially the website, will tell you what are the reporting obligations. There are multiple levels. If I go into details over here, it’s not going to last.

LN: Got it. And so, we talked about exfiltration but what can happen if someone gets in and actually deletes patient medical records?

AB: Well, the first thing is in hospital systems that patient who’s going to be either going into surgery or something like that, they will not be able to get, pull out the data.

LN: And so people who have a need for critical life-saving care, might actually die.

AB: Yes.

LN: Or worse yet, if someone were to alter the medical records

AB: That is a threat

LN: And say instead of your left lung having cancer it’s your right lung and you get the wrong lung removed, that’s a real problem

AB: It’s a big problem.

LN: So if you have to say, wrap it up what would be the top three recommendations you make to health care organizations to help defend against the potential future data breach that’s from running Windows 7?

Top 3 Measures to Defend Windows 7


  1. First is implementing operate plan to leave Windows 7, immediately. That’s a given fact.
  2. Second, isolate Windows 7 legacy into VDIs which we call the Virtual Desktop Environments. Isolate them from the network.
  3. And the third, make sure that your disaster recovery is in place and you do periodic tabletop exercises.

LN: Well thanks so much, that was really informative. I appreciate you coming on the show.

AB: Thank you for inviting me again.

LN: Take care.

Microsoft Windows 7 End of Support


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Energy Sector Protection

The Energy Sector must protect the electric power grid system, oil, and natural gas infrastructures from the ever changing cybersecurity environment. Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. cover the many steps necessary in detection and protection against any and all threats.

As global unrest heats up, the Energy Sector has to maintain its cool. What is the energy sector? The oil, electric power grid, natural gas refineries, and pipelines are all part of the intricate web of the energy sector. To avoid a disaster they must wrestle with the ever-changing cyber security environment, protect themselves from internal and external threats in all of the energy sector infrastructures all while keeping up with energy demands. That’s a mammoth task! Both experts agree Energy Sector protection can be achieved if approached with precision. Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. cover the many steps necessary in detection and protection against any and all threats.

Part 3 in the four-part series on Energy Sector Cyber Insecurity.

Part 3 in our Global Energy Sector Insecurity

Lee Neubecker: I’m back again with Geary Sikich and we’re continuing our series discussing cyber global insecurity, as it relates to the energy sector. And in this segment, we’re going to talk more about things that can be done to help protect against these cyber threats.

Geary Sikich: So Lee, when we look at protection, I think there’s a three-level process and I think you can describe some of the things that have to go on in these three levels. Strategically, I put together a business plan for an organization and that organization sets goals and objectives, one would be to have cybersecurity. Now, how do I execute that, what are the things that, at the operational and tactical level, the things that really are going to prevent, what are those things, what are those things that are going to help me?

LN: Well, much like we were talking before about detecting compromises, having a solid inventory on what your digital assets are, what computer devices, what cell phones, if you know what your devices are and you have that information available, you’ll be able to spot when something goes wrong. So, part of protecting is doing the bean-counting work of inventorying your digital assets.

GS: So, it’s not just an audit process, it’s a much more of a detailed look at what those assets consist of?

LN: Yeah and once you know what your assets are, you can figure out, who are they assigned to? If someone leaves your organization, you should have accountability steps in place to retrieve those assets. You should also be inventorying the state of those assets, are they fully patched and up-to-date? If you’re not patching your devices, you’re at great risk of cyber compromise.

GS: So is identity, not only do I have to worry about being compromised from an external source but I also have the internal threat of a disgruntled employee, of someone leaving the company, not with any mal, you know, intent, no malicious intent, if you will but just not following up on what I should have done as they out-process.

LN: Exactly, password rotations, people have weak passwords, people become compromised, people reuse their passwords. As someone reused their password for one of your important infrastructure systems on a popular social media site and that site becomes compromised, guess what, those passwords get loaded up into software for hacking and they do what’s known as “credential-stuffing attack”, they loop through and they fire at every device they can using the username and password, the known username and password and that’s how a lot of people fall prey to attacks.

GS: So, in that context, should you store passwords via one of them, like Google Chrome or some of the other, Internet Explorer, those types of things, should you store passwords that way?

LN: I recommend against storing it in your browser. If you’re going to store them somewhere, I think a password management tool like LastPass, that has two-factor capabilities, two-factor authentication essentially means that you have to know your, it’s something you know, plus something you have or something you are and in the case of LastPass, you’re typically using either your cell phone with an app that has an authenticator, that’s something you have, plus your master password and that helps protect against someone intercepting your password and being able to log on.

GS: So, in essence, protection is not a simplified process, protection is something that we have to, sort of, dedicate ourselves to conscientiously and make sure that we continue to maintain an up-to-date awareness, in order to be able to fully protect ourselves.

LN: Exactly and that brings in your staff, you need to know that your staff are being educated about popular ways that companies become compromised like if a bunch of USB devices are dropped in the parking lot, they might say things like “payroll” or something on it, would your employees plug that into your computer, you know, are you testing for that? You know, there are things you can do, there are services out there where you can have your own organization spearfished by a white-hat hacker, that’s going to tell you who clicked and then you know who you need to educate.

GS: So, we’ve made two points thus far on protection. One is that it needs to be part of the business plan, it has to be audited. In terms of auditing, knowing what you have devices-wise. Second is that you have to have educated employees. Now, both of those aspects present somewhat of a business conundrum, if you will. Education doesn’t necessarily equate to dollars coming in but from a protection standpoint, I think the sales point would be that it prevents dollars going out and the better educated, the more aware so that we can look at the other aspects that we discussed, detecting and protecting being two.

LN: Unfortunately, if you run an organization today, you have a new job, which is to make sure that you’re cyber secure and it’s a serious threat that corporate boards are making their CEOs accountable for so you know and it’s multi-faceted, you got to train your employees, you got to nail what you have, you got to make sure what you have is up-to-date and patched and then you also need to make sure that you have some mechanism to monitor and record events so that you can tell if you become compromised so the protection really requires much more today than it used to, it’s, the number of ways that an organization can become compromised, can be via an employee’s cell phone that becomes compromised and then it launches an attack on your internal systems.

GS: So, in the, it’s kind of like the mindset, if you will, has to be changed, in terms of looking at management and their commitment to cybersecurity protection. In the days past, we looked at protection. “What can I do, put up a wall, what can I do, “I can physically protect my facilities and my operation.” Now, today, that becomes more of a challenge because we’re dependent more on things that are not necessarily in the realm of physical protection per se so we really have to be getting to rethink how we look at protection and then ensure that the process is continuous, not a one-time situation.

LN: Exactly and certainly, you know, a DR, known as disaster-recovery planning and contingency planning can go a long way, you know, a simple act of making an offline backup on a periodic basis and you know, maybe that’s only once a month for some organizations but at least, if you have something offline, if you get hit by a Cryptolocker attack, the risk comes down to “well, what does it cost “for us to rebuild the last month?” Or maybe it’s the last week or maybe it’s last night so thinking through, I think going through the disaster-recovery planning exercise is a really good way to help protect your organization.

GS: Okay, I agree with you on the planning aspect. The caution I would say with that is that all too often, organizations develop disaster-recovery, business continuity, other types of plans to deal with emergencies, the response. The challenge is that those plans need to be kept, as you did say, with the cyber up-to-date and consistently reviewed, we have to have it in the mental work.

LN: And that’s where having someone like you and myself come into audit the business risk and actually inspect to see is the plan being followed, is the C-suite having a false sense of security because there’s this plan that was produced years ago, that no one’s really looked into, you know, it doesn’t take but you know, I think, you and I onsite for one day, we could help poke holes and give a report of, is an organization following their plan or does it look like everything’s far off but you’re not going to get that reporting from your own people internally.

GS: Yeah, I think it’s a challenge for people internally because there’s a vested interest, number one. Number two, they think that, in a lot of respects, they’ve done what needs to get done. The other aspect and I think this is important from what you pointed out, is that when you begin to look at today’s plans, you have to realize, they’re kind of reactive, in many respects, they’re not very proactive so they react to an event happening. That’s good because that helps companies become more resilient but it doesn’t keep them from protecting themselves as they need to.

LN: Exactly but there’s also a financial component to these plans, you know, it’s not uncommon that IT, they’ll go through this exercise and then afterwards, they’ll say “well, I need this subscription, this software, “I need this vendor” and none of that funding comes through but it’s much better and that sometimes gets lost in the minutiae from planning to execution and if that, in fact, is happening, you’ll want to know about it before you need the DR and it’s not there.

LN: So, I think that wraps up our section on protection. In our next segment, we’ll be talking a little bit more about responding to the crisis of a cyber breach, as it relates to the energy sector.

Watch the other segments on Cyber Insecurity in the Energy Sector

Part 1 – Global Energy Sector: Insecurity

Part 1 Global Energy Sector Insecurity

Part 2 – Energy Sector: Intrusion Detection

Part 2 Energy Sector: Intrusion Detection

Watch other related video segments

Energy Sector and Cyber Readiness

To learn more read this government report about Cybersecurity for the Energy Sector delivery system


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