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According to a bi-annual Microsoft study, the Windows 7 operating system is looking at a malware infection increase as high as 182 percent over the same period last year.
But, experts say that such statistics can be deceiving when the law of large numbers kicks in.
"This is probably a function of market share," speculated Aryeh Goretsky, distinguished researcher, at AV vendor ESET. "Windows 7 just peaked over XP as the most widely used operating system. So, that means that the bad guys are now focusing on attacking that OS, as opposed to XP. That's where the most bang for the buck can now be found."
But in its Security Intelligence Report, Microsoft points to a wide variety of factors, ranging from the increase in sophistication of malware attacks to a lack of sophistication among mainstream users, particularly in the consumer segment.
"While there has been a slight increase in malware associated with the latest version of Windows 7 64-bit systems, it is important to put the data into perspective," said Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, in an emailed statement. "In time, as more applications are installed on a machine, that machine’s risk profile increases. With application vulnerabilities accounting for over 70% of all vulnerability disclosures according to the report, it’s not surprising to see two more systems out of 1,000 being cleaned for malware. This re-emphasizes the importance of keeping software up to date for all applications installed on the machine."
As users continue to migrate towards newer operating systems, it's likely that the attack rates against Windows 7 will continue to grow, at least until Windows 8 penetrates the market to the point where it begins to shift market share away from Windows 7.
"Windows 7 is becoming a lot more popular as companies and consumers begin moving away from XP," said Mark Austin, co-founder and CTO of Avecto a Manchester, U.K.-based security vendor specializing in Windows privilege management. "Attackers are always looking to go after the most popular and widely deployed operating systems, which is why Windows is always so heavily targeted. Windows 7 is now the primary target. I don't think that it is easier to attack than Windows XP, because there are a number of features that make Windows 7 more secure. But, nothing is foolproof."