Microsoft released its Security Intelligence Report this week, providing some interesting insights into vulnerabilities and security trends. According to the report, several common operating systems have dropped. Much of that can be attributed to the general trend among attackers to target applications themselves, rather than the OS, a trend that has been noted by several security vendors who have focused more recently on application-based security.
The 150-page report said that over 90 per cent of the flaws reported were application-based.
The report covers the first half of the year, and discovered that the total number of vulnerabilities has been consistently falling. On the downside, the report notes that although reported vulnerabilities have decreased, the number of high-severity issues increased.
Good news for Vista users. In addressing browser-based threats, the report noted that Windows XP accounted for 42 per cent of browser-based attacks, while Vista accounted for six per cent of the total. I’m attributing this to two separate factors: First, Vista, despite some usability problems and a public perception of being a dud, is more secure than any other Windows OS. Objectively speaking, Vista just has more security features. Now if they could just make it run a little faster! The second factor is what I’ll call the “Apple effect,” which is why Apple has so few security attacks: not as many people use it. Attackers, spammers and other types of cyberthieves are very opportunistic, and also lazy to an extent. They want to pick the low-hanging fruit, and get the most return for their time. An cybercriminal could certainly create an attack to target Apple users, but then, how much response would they get? It’s a simple matter of return on investment. There are more Windows users, so from an economic perspective, if you are a cybercriminal, it makes more economic sense to target the larger audience. This is true with Vista as well. Although the security is tighter, a significant number of Windows users have chosen to stick with XP for the time being, and so there will be fewer Vista-specific attacks.
On the email side, the report said that many email systems are successfully blocking attachments that are typically used as a venue for transmitting malware. During the first half of the year, almost 98 per cent of blocked attachments were .html and .zip files. The report further said that the threat that Exchange Hosted Services blocked most often was HTML/IframeRef, which was blocked seven times more often than the number two threat.