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We knew that Windows XP was holding back Microsoft’s ability to innovate on the security of its operating systems, but just how much? Well according to new data released in the company’s annual Security Intelligence Report, infection rates for Windows 7 are five times lower than a fully patched machine running Windows XP SP3. Windows Vista faired significantly better, however infection rates were still almost double that of a comparable Windows 7 based PC.
The most secure version of Windows, not surprisingly, is Windows 7 64 bit. In this version Microsoft introduced “Kernel Patch Protection”, a feature which played havoc with some anti-virus solutions at launch, but has ultimately lead to a more stable and secure operating system. Of course you could also make the argument that users of the 64 bit edition tend to be a bit more tech savvy, and as a result are at a lower risk of infection, but this is likely only a small part of the explanation. Most new PC’s are shipping these days with Windows 7 64-bit, and the trend data contained within the report suggests no meaningful increase or decrease as a result of share gains.
Clearly Microsoft is headed in the right direction from a security standpoint, and we expect to see even more progress in Windows 8. Improvements to the operating system are forcing malware makers to shift their focus to installed applications at an increasing rate to stay afloat. I suggest installing a free copy of Secunia PSI to help keep your exposure to a minimum if you’ve already made the jump to Windows 7.
Download a full copy of the report here (PDF)