Why I Still Teach Malware Removal

When Microsoft introduced Windows 10, it used the tagline “The most secure Windows ever – and built to stay that way”. In a perfect world, everyone would now be running on Windows 10 and enjoying the enhanced security features that are included. This is real life, however, and that’s not how it works. There are still millions of PCs running Windows XP, four years after Microsoft ended support for the product, and millions more than that running Windows 7. Aryeh Goretsky, a researcher for ESET, states in a white paper that the number of computers “…running Windows XP has stayed about the same over the last few quarters at around 5.5 percent.  While that may not sound like much, it means there may be somewhat over 80 million computers out there still using Windows XP.” ComputerWorld estimates that at the end of 2019, just a year from Windows 7’s retirement, an estimated 47% of Windows computers will still use that OS.

The point of this post is not to analyze these trends, as there are plenty of articles and blog posts already out there. I simply want to explain why I still teach malware removal in GeekU, over 10 years after I became involved with the malware removal community. The number of computers running obsolete operating systems are a large part of the reason. The need for security on these systems has not gone away, and neither has the need for malware removal. There have been no security updates for Windows XP in 4 years, and after January 2020, Windows 7 will no longer receive them either. That means a lot of PCs remain vulnerable even as malware becomes more sophisticated. The best advice I could give to someone running Windows XP is to stay off the Internet, but that’s not realistic, so I continue to teach trainees the specifics of the XP operating system and how it differs from that of Windows 7 and above. I teach that Windows XP should have a 3rd party firewall installed, as the embedded version doesn’t block outbound traffic. That’s why I teach how to use an elevated command prompt in Windows XP. That’s why I teach using Chkdsk from a command prompt on Windows 7. We have a lot of GeekU students who are younger and more conversant with Windows 8.1 and 10, but many are in college and may enter a workplace in which Windows 7 is still prevalent, so maybe I’m even teaching skills that will benefit them as a professional.

Realistically, Windows 10 is not completely safe either, so what I’m doing will remain relevant for some time. As long as there are users, as long as there are people who choose to exploit the vulnerabilities of both software and users, there will be those who fall prey to malware and exploits.