Microsoft published Version 8 of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR) this week. The report covers the second half of 2009 and is a massive piece of information with almost 250 pages.
Here are my top data points of the report, which reflect the realities of the current security situation and should be considered by any security practitioner.
Running updated software decreases the attack surface and increases general robustness. The report shows that attackers target Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) up to four times more often than the newer version IE 7 (pg.33). Statistics on the OS level reveal that the newer versions of Windows are less likely to be infected by malware -- Windows XP SP3 is more than five times better than the original Windows XP, and Windows 7 is another three times better than XP SP3 (pg. 85). In addition, 64-bit implementations add another layer of robustness.
Application attacks continue to increase. Adobe Reader attacks were used in 44 percent of the investigated cases, followed by an attack on a recent Internet Explorer vulnerability with 16 percent. The remaining 40 percent are divided by attacks on the OS and a variety of different software packages, including RealPlayer, Apple QuickTime, and AOL software (pg.26).
Attacks against Microsoft Office make use of older vulnerabilities and can easily be avoided by keeping the software suite up to date. By applying the respective service packs, users can avoid the majority of Office file format attacks (pg. 43).
While Windows 7 (and Vista SP2) are clearly much better than the older versions of Windows, there has been an uptake in the infection rate. Attackers are starting to focus their attention on Windows 7 as it become wider deployed and it will be interesting to see how its performance develops.
The takeaway from the report is clear: Keep your installed software patched to current levels. But that alone is not good enough anymore, as Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently acknowledged (around 1:23). Running old versions of operating systems, browsers, and application software exposes companies to unnecessary additional risks, so invest into initiatives that get systems upgraded to the newest technology available.
-- As the CTO for Qualys, Wolfgang Kandek is responsible for product direction and all operational aspects of the QualysGuard platform and its infrastructure. Wolfgang has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing information systems. His focus has been on Unix-based server architectures and application delivery through the Internet. Wolfgang provides the latest commentary on his blog: laws.qualys.com and also publishes his Patch Tuesday commentary to the QualysGuard channel: www.youtube.com/QualysGuard. He is a frequent source in business and trade media and speaks at industry conferences around the world, most recently at RSA 2010.