Microsoft Security Report Findings: Scareware on the Rise, Vista Safer than XP

Article by George Norman (Cybersecurity Editor)

on 09 Apr 2009

According to Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report (SIR) volume 6, there are two things the day-to-day user needs to be made aware of: the first is that rogue security software (scareware) is showing signs of increased prevalence; the second is that infection rates detected by the company indicate that Vista is safer than XP. The report refers to threats and security issues detected over a period of six months, from July though December 2008, and has been made available for download in 10 different languages.

Rogue security software, which is usually called scareware, performs one simple task: it pretends to be a genuine security solution, but in fact it is malware. Upon visiting a site, for example, a popup appears telling you that your computer has been infected and you can get rid of the problem if you download and install a rogue security application. You are in fact allowing malware to make its way onto your computer, you are not keeping your system safe – kind of ironic if you think about it.

“One of the clearest trends in the telemetric data examined in this report has been a dramatic rise in the prevalence of rogue security software programs. These are programs that masquerade as legitimate security programs offering protection from malware, spyware, and other threats, but actually use social engineering to obtain money from victims and offer poor or nonexistent protection. Typically, a rogue security program displays false or misleading alerts about infections or vulnerabilities on the victim’s computer and offers to fix the supposed problems for a price. Rogue security software has been around for years20 but, in recent months, has become a major part of the worldwide threat landscape, with old families exploiting new ways of distribution and new families appearing occasionally. Rogue security software generates hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars a year in ill-gotten profits for its distributors, along with large numbers of IT help desk calls from worried victims,” explains the report.

The other interesting thing that SIR volume 6 brought to light is the fact that Windows XP RTM saw the largest infection rate, followed by XP SP1, XP SP2, XP SP3 and then by Vista RTM and Windows Vista SP1 – as you can see from the graph presented below. This is a clear indication that an operating system becomes safer, the higher the service pack level is; it is also a clear indication that the newer Windows-based OS, Vista, is safer than the now outdated XP. The infection rate of Vista SP1 for example was 60.6% smaller than that of XP SP3.

If you would like to get the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report volume 6, a download location is available here.

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