THOUSANDS of computers could be left vulnerable to hackers such as those behind the Wannacry cyber attack of 2017, IT experts are warning.

Microsoft is planning to end support in January for its Windows 7 operating system, which is still used on an estimated 38 per cent of personal computers.

The software will still work but technical support, software updates and security patches will end, potentially leaving users open to exploitation.

In 2017, 300,000 organisations that were still using the Windows XP system suffered a serious cyber attack via the WannaCry ransomware. The incident caused chaos in many parts of the NHS, where remedial work cost more than £92million.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Echo later that year revealed that hundreds of machines with Windows XP were still in use by local councils and health services, even though it had been deemed a security risk since 2014.

John Richardson, marketing manager for Bournemouth IT company Innovate Ltd, said Microsoft would switch off support for Server 2008 at the same time as it stops supporting Windows 7, on January 14. On October 13 next year, it will end support for its Exchange 2010 application.

“End of support means that Microsoft will no longer be providing technical support nor issuing software updates and security patches for the products. Although the software will still work as normal after this date, it is inevitable that new security flaws will be uncovered and patches to close these will no longer be issued, leaving them open to exploitation,” he said.

He added: “There’s a good chance that hackers are now working on how they can exploit any vulnerabilities within Windows 7.

“Microsoft will continue to support newer products but when vulnerabilities are discovered in them, this is likely to highlight similar vulnerabilities in Windows 7. However, as the product is no longer supported, no security patches will be issued. This will in effect give hackers a map to exploitable vulnerabilities in Windows 7.”

He said there was also a risk from obsolescence, since new versions of Microsoft products such as Office would not be developed to work on older versions of Windows. “Indeed most other software developers will also no longer support any of their legacy software that was designed to operate on Windows 7,” he added.

He said updating to Windows 10 was “not as clear cut as you may think”, as the software might be too advanced for some desktop computers and servers. Windows 10’s end of service date is currently set as 2026.

Mr Richardson urged organisations to consider migrating their systems to cloud platforms, which store data online rather than locally. This ensures business-critical applications are kept current and files can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

Innovate, based on Poole Road, has its own business cloud platform, called Continuous, which uses the company’s global network of data centres.