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27 April 2010, 14:40

Microsoft publishes its latest Security Intelligence Report, Vol. 8

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Microsoft has published the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Volume 8, its security report for the second half of 2009. The report summarises data collected by Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), Forefront and Security Essentials. Commenting on the report Tom Köhler, Information Security Director at Microsoft Germany, said that, "Users who still have Internet Explorer 6 installed on their systems are taking an unnecessary risk and should urgently update to the free version 8, which offers a significantly higher level of protection."

Microsoft's interpretation of the report is that the best protection is offered by a combination of healthy mistrust, the latest anti-virus software and by ensuring that all the software on a system is up-to-date. For operating systems at least, the report says the figures speak for themselves – Windows Vista SP2 and Windows 7 are infected with malware half as often as systems running Windows XP.

However, users do not always choose to, or have the option of, using the latest version. Netbooks, for example, were, until recently, principally sold with Windows XP. Versions running Windows 7 Starter – which contains significant restrictions to the user interface – have hit the market only recently.

Even users running Internet Explorer 8 are not entirely safe, as its 'protected mode', which offers protection from a range of attacks, only works in Windows 7 and Vista, leaving XP users once again out in the cold. Internet Explorer is, however, no longer the number one target for attacks, having been overtaken by Adobe Reader and the Adobe Reader plug-in. Symantec came to a similar conclusion in a report published last week.

According to the report the threat landscape in the UK is dominated by malware. Microsoft says that its Malicious Software Removal Tool detected malware on 4.1 out of every 1,000 UK computers scanned during the second half of last year – down from 4.9 in every 1,000 in the first half of 2009. Malware, accounted for 69.9% (up 2.8%) of all detected threats. Trojans, the most common category for the UK, accounted for 34.5%.

Microsoft and Symantec, however, differ in their conclusions with regard to the distribution of malware. According to Microsoft, just 0.22% of monitored computers in Germany were infected with malware. Microsoft's free Security Essentials (MSE) anti-virus software may also be able to claim some of the credit for this low figure. The infection rate in Germany is low by international standards and has fallen for the third time in a row. According to the study, compared to other countries, German users do a pretty good job when it comes to internet security. However, Symantec found that 12% of malware in Europe was being actively disseminated from German computers, making it the number one malware spreader in Europe.

Scareware is also becoming an ever greater problem. In the second half of 2009, Microsoft removed scareware purporting to be anti-virus software from around 8 million computers worldwide, compared to 5 million in the previous six months. Microsoft assesses scareware as offering a business model with a comparatively low level of risk and a high turnover.

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