First post, by keenmaster486
No, your Windows 95 computer is not going to instantly get a virus as soon as you plug in your network cable. That's the gist of this post.
Basically, I see so much superstition around connecting old machines to the internet. People go to great lengths to reassure vintage computer communities that "no, I'm not connecting this old computer to the network! Please don't kill me!"
There are a few reasons why this is bunk:
- The older the OS, the less likely it is that modern viruses can run on it. The vast majority probably cannot run on anything older than Windows 7. If you're on Win9x, probably 99.99% are dead in the water. Windows 3.1 and DOS are even better.
- Windows computers get so many viruses mostly because people are stupid. They click on things they shouldn't click on online (fake buttons, email attachments, etc), download the viruses themselves, and install them themselves, thinking that they are legitimate software that they "need" because that's what it claimed, after all, and they are ignorant enough not to know better.
- Many security vulnerabilities affect server OS's. A consumer OS doesn't have services running and listening on ports, let alone ported through on your home router. If you are exposing old Windows services to the open internet, then you know the risks you take on! The casual retro PC collector probably won't be doing this.
- Old security vulnerabilities have been patched in modern OS's, so virus writers have naturally given up on them. Why should they bother trying to take advantage of a vulnerability from Windows 95, that 99.9999% of Internet-connected computers in 2020 don't have?
I use many old computers on the open internet with no repercussions. DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP. No antivirus. Openly connected to the Internet. No issues. I just know how to avoid the malicious software. If I downloaded and installed a virus I'd be screwed, but I'd also be stupid.
I ran an exposed service, ported through on my home router, and (stupidly) with no password on my modern, up-to-date Linux computer, and within the day it was compromised and I almost lost my personal information before I noticed and killed it. That taught me a lesson about security: play with fire and you'll get burned.
Run exposed services without good security practices on your modern, "secure" computer, and you'll probably be compromised. Connect your Windows 95 computer to the internet and go to google.com in Netscape Navigator, and you'll be fine every time. It's a matter of what you're doing with the computer and what's listening to traffic on it, not whether it's connected or not.
There's no fire to get burned by in Windows 95. Perhaps if you run NT 4.0 Server Edition and you're exposing vulnerable services, then yes. But if you're doing that then you're much more than just a casual user, and you ought to know better, and put the whole thing behind some kind of locked-down gateway or firewall.
I even run a Windows 7 VM connected to the open internet with no antivirus and no issues. I'm less certain about that, though, since modern viruses can definitely run on it. But so far it is fine.
World's foremost 486 enjoyer.