Earlier this week, Microsoft rolled out new patches for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities in Windows 7 and 8.1. It was good news for fans of the older operating systems, but only those running compatible security software. Anyone without the right antivirus won’t receive the update – or any future security patches, for that matter – and they might not be aware of it.
Microsoft began releasing patches for Spectre and Meltdown via Windows Update in January, but the updates weren’t compatible with all antivirus apps and sometimes caused users’ systems to crash.
To get around the problem, Microsoft suspended the updates and told antivirus vendors they must update their products to alter a registry key on users’ PCs to signal that their software is compatible. No updated key, no security update.
Microsoft has now lifted this limitation for Windows 10 users (Windows Defender changes the key for you), but if you’re running Windows 7 or 8.1 without up-to-date antivirus then you’re doubly at risk. Not only are you not adequately protected from malicious software, you won’t receive Windows security updates either.
Using a PC connected to any network without current security software is undoubtedly a bad idea, but How-To Geek has published a guide explaining how to update the key manually so you can keep receiving Windows updates anyway.
Alternatively, take a look at our guide to the best free antivirus software to keep your Windows 7 or 8.1 PC secure.