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Vista security credentials tarnished in malware survey

Better off with a Win 2000 box

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Windows Vista is better at protecting against malware than XP but more easily infected than Windows 2000, according to a study by Australian anti-virus firm PC Tools.

The survey calls into question Microsoft's oft-cited claims that Vista is its most secure operating system.

Recent research based on malware scans of more than 1.4m PCs running PC Tools' ThreatFire security technology over a period of six months turned up 639 threats per 1,000 PCs running Windows Vista compared to 1,021 threats per 1,000 Win XP boxes and 586 for 1,000 machines running Windows 2000. Servers running Win 2003 had the lowest number of infection with 586 unique threats per thousand machines. PC Tools' results were verified by checking against third-party scanners.

It's worth bearing in mind that PCs infected with malware are likely to harbour multiple infections, so PC Tools' stats don't shed much light on the percentage of infected machines.

"[Vista]has been hailed by Microsoft as the most secure version of Windows to date. However, recent research conducted with statistics from over 1.4 million computers within the ThreatFire community has shown that Windows Vista is more susceptible to malware than the eight year old Windows 2000 operating system, and only 37 per cent more secure than Windows XP," said Simon Clausen, chief exec at PC Tools.

Clausen notes that Microsoft spent a great deal of effort in making Vista more secure. He argues that the findings of the PC Tools survey show that security firms (who have a clear vested interest) were right to be skeptical about claims that Vista offered improved resistance to malware.

It could be that malware authors are targeting XP more than either Vista or Win 2000 machines, hence the higher rates of infection on that flavour of Windows. Most malware infections rely on tricking users into doing something stupid as much, if not more than, security vulnerabilities. Defending against human stupidity is always going to be tricky, or even impossible. ®

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