I have an old laptop

A photo collage about digital and environmental topics. (Adobe Stock)

I have a laptop that is ten years old. It is a bit slow, but it is still working. It was never intended for games, but rather for working, writing, editing photos and for my kids’ entertainment, for streaming movies and for watching YouTube. I always keep my laptop updated. The laptop automatically updates my Microsoft Windows operating system. Recently I have however noticed that my poor old laptop is technically so weak that it does not support Windows 11. Microsoft has announced that it is possible to get updates to version 10 until the year 2025. So, I still have a few years left…

But what then? If I do not get updates for my old laptop, I have 2 options. I will keep it, and it will be a security risk for me, or the whole machine can be scrapped.

The world produces about 50 million tons of electronic waste every year. A huge problem are people who throw away devices that can still be used, just because it is fancy to have the newest model. Luckily, more and more people have new principles about re-using, repairing, fixing and recycling stuff. There are already a lot of companies who try to fix old computers in order to keep them in use for as long as possible.

The weight of a new laptop is probably just one kilogram, but to manufacture it – depending on the model – needs about 20 kg of chemicals and 1500 kg of water, and the whole process will produce 200-300 kg of CO2. We should not forget that certain metals needed in electronic devices come often from areas known for their doubtful reputation regarding human rights or they are mined in areas with sensitive biodiversity.

Let us therefore say, that I want to keep my old laptop in use for as long as possible. This option can cause a lot of harm for me and my family. A laptop that is not updated can be a source of serious cyber security threats. The worst possible harm could be caused by a virus like a trojan that steals my personal information or a ransomware that locks my documents and photos and asks me to pay to get them back. Even if I have backups, does the laptop need to be thrown away after the attack? Or can I still salvage it?

Cyber security and sustainability go hand in hand. The European Union is promoting both alternatives, but I have rarely seen that someone would talk about these two topics at the same time. Europe fit for the digital age is one strategic priority of the European Commission. On their website they write “Digital technology is changing people’s lives. The EU’s digital strategy aims to make this transformation work for people and businesses, while helping to achieve its target of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050”. As we have already noticed, the digital transformation needs to be supported by cyber security experts, and people should be aware of the carbon footprint their new devices leave.

European Green Deal is another important priority of the Commission and one of the goals is “longer lasting products that can be repaired, recycled and re-used”. I would like to suggest that the Commission should add the words “long lasting products with long lasting cyber security updates”.

I am very happy, that I have the chance to work in the SIFIS-home project that focuses on security-by-design and compatibility of smart home systems. If all the Internet-connected refrigerators, air-conditioners, televisions, vacuum cleaners, lighting and locks are designed to be long lasting and re-usable from the start, and cyber security is also updatable, we are on a safe and good path to the future.

(Featured image: Adobe Stock)

About the writer

Laura Palovuori is a R&D project communicator at Centria University of Applied Sciences. Her interests are in cybersecurity awareness, sustainability and well-being.

Laura Palovuori