Businesses still running Windows XP are six times more likely to become infected by malware than users running new operating systems (OS) like Windows 8, according to a new report from Microsoft Corp.

And although Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, a solid 21 per cent of computers in Canada were still running Windows XP as of this month. However, the most popular OS by far is Windows 7, with about half of Canadian users running it on their PCs, according to figures from StatCounter, a web analytics company.

In a lengthy report released Oct. 29, Microsoft researchers found there wasn’t a huge gap between the amount of malware encountered by computers running different operating systems. In the first half of 2013, about 16 per cent of computers still running Windows XP encountered malware. About 19 per cent of computers running Windows 7 ran into malware, while 12 per cent of computers on Windows 8 had the same problem.

(Image: Microsoft). Infection rates (left) and malware encounter rates. Click to enlarge.
(Image: Microsoft). Infection rates (left) and malware encounter rates. Click to enlarge.

However, those running XP were much more likely to actually be infected, with infection rates topping out at 9.1 computers cleaned for every 1,000 computers scanned. By contrast, that infection rate dropped to 4.9 for Windows 7 and just 1.6 for Windows 8.

For malware zeroing in on Windows XP users, the top three types of malware were Sality, Ramnit, and Vobfus. Sality is a family of malware targeting executable files using the extensions .scr or .exe, focusing on stealing personal data or lowering PC security settings.

Ramnit attacks executable files, Microsoft Office files, and HTML files. It can also spread to removable drives, stealing sensitive information like File Transfer Protocol credentials and browser cookies. It can also await instructions from a remote attacker.

Vobfus, a family of worms, spreads over network drives and removable drives, downloading and executing files that may also contain malware.

Still, Microsoft did have some tips for IT departments looking to avoid threats to their systems. The top one may be to move off Windows XP, but beyond that, the report called for running regular software updates, as well as considering a third-party update mechanism that can run non-Microsoft-related updates.

The report also recommended using the SmartScreen Filter if an organization’s employees are using the Internet Explorer browser, moving to a 64-bit hardware architecture, and figuring out when Java can be used and when it can be avoided.

Making use of AppLocker might also be a good plan, as it can block computers from installing unwanted software like Java or peer-to-peer applications. Microsoft also provides an Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit to IT departments to try to cut down on the number of exploited vulnerabilities in its software.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles