This exploit could give users free Windows 7 updates beyond 2020

The tool, built to bypass extended support eligibility checks, was successfully tested on a dummy Windows 7 update

Members of an online forum have developed a tool that could be used to bypass eligibility checks for Windows 7 extended support and receive free updates after the OS reaches end-of-life.

Only a handful of Windows 7 users can continue to receive updates from Microsoft through its paid-for Extended Support Updates (ESU) programme after 14 January, through to January 2023.

This scheme was first introduced for enterprise customers in August and later extended to SMB users after Microsoft identified “challenges in today’s economy”.

The ESU programme is not available to all businesses, however. Users on tech support platform My Digital Life have therefore developed a prototype tool that could theoretically allow ineligible businesses to continue to receive free updates beyond 14 January.

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Before ESU patches are beamed to eligible machines, Windows 7 performs a check to determine whether or not users can receive these updates. This involves the installation and activation of an ESU license key. The created tool bypasses this eligibility check, which is only performed during installation, so users would, in theory, continue to receive Windows 7 updates for free through the ESU scheme without paying an ESU subscription.

The bypass was tested on the Windows 7 update KB4528069, a dummy update which was issued to users in November so they could verify whether or not they were eligible for extended support after 14 January.

Although the tool has worked on the test patch, its creators urged My Digital Life forum members to consider this as a prototype, and not a fully-fledged workaround, as things may change by February 2020.

Microsoft will be keen to ensure there aren’t any ways to undermine the ESU scheme once Windows 7 reaches end-of-life due to the sums it’s charging eligible businesses, and an ultimate desire to shift machines to Windows 10.

The firm is likely to change the way the eligibility check is performed given how simple it’s been proven to bypass.

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It's certainly not a tool that Microsoft is likely to condone, but it does demonstrate the extent to which Windows 7 is still popular as users are trying to retain undisrupted access to the legacy OS.

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Businesses have just weeks to upgrade their devices running Windows 7 and Windows XP or face restrictions on accessing critical security updates.

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