Fewer than 1% of exploits in the first half of 2011 were against zero-day vulnerabilities — software vulnerabilities that are successfully exploited before the vendor has published a security update or “patch”. In contrast, 99% of all attacks during the same period distributed malware through familiar techniques, such as social engineering and unpatched vulnerabilities.
At yesterday’s RSA Conference Europe 2011, Microsoft released its Microsoft Security Intelligence report volume 11, which highlights the fact that some of the more common threats can be mitigated through good security best practices.
SIRv11 further revealed that user interaction, typically employing social-engineering techniques, is attributed to nearly half (45%) of all malware propagation in the first half of 2011. In addition, more than a third of all malware is spread through cybercriminal abuse of Win32/Autorun, a feature that automatically starts programs when external media, such as a CD or USB, are inserted into a computer. Ninety percent of infections that were attributed to vulnerability exploitation had a security update available from the software vendor for more than a year.
“We encourage people to consider this information when prioritizing their security practices,” says Vinny Gullotto, GM of the Microsoft Malware Protection Centre. “SIRv11 provides techniques and guidance to mitigate common infection vectors, and its data helps remind us that we can’t forget about the basics. Techniques such as exploiting old vulnerabilities, Win32/Autorun abuse, password cracking and social engineering remain lucrative approaches for criminals.”
In the report, Microsoft includes prescriptive guidance to help educate people about commonly known social-engineering techniques, how to create strong passwords and how to manage security updates. In addition, Microsoft provides insight into reducing Win32/Autorun abuse with updates released earlier this year for Windows XP and Windows Vista (Windows 7 already included these updates) that prevent the Win/32Autorun feature from being enabled automatically for most media. Within four months of issuing the update, the number of infections from the most prolific Win32/Autorun-abusing malware families was reduced by almost 60% on Windows XP and by 74 percent on Windows Vista in comparison to 2010 infection rates.
“The insight about global online threats, including zero-days, from SIRv11 helps our mutual customers better prioritise defenses to more effectively manage risk,” says Brad Arkin, senior director: product security and privacy at Adobe. “It also provides a good reminder on the importance of keeping systems up to date with the latest security protections.”
To help protect networks and systems, Microsoft advocates a multifaceted approach to managing risk:
* Build products and services with security in mind. Microsoft and other vendors, such as Adobe Systems Inc., have invested in increased security measures, such as security-by-design, which are having an impact. Industry-disclosed vulnerabilities have dropped approximately 24% since July 2010 and have been trending down during the past five years;
* Educate customers and employees. Companies should concentrate on educating employees on their responsibility to security and back that up by developing and enforcing companywide security policies in areas such as passwords;
* Upgrade to the latest products and services. Making the move to the most current products and services helps increases protection against the most prevalent online threats. For example, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 have the lowest infection rates of any previous Windows operating systems — in the first half of 2011, Windows 7 Service Pack 1 for 32-bit systems were three times less likely to be infected than Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 2 and six times less than Windows XP SP3. Windows Server 2008 R2 was 32% less likely to be infected than Windows Server 2003 SP2; and
* Consider cloud services. In a cloud-computing environment, the cloud vendor manages many of the security processes and procedures required to keep a system up to date, including the installation of security updates. Businesses and consumers constrained in managing the security of their computing environment can leverage cloud services to help offload portions of their security management.
“Organisations can choose to leverage the cloud to help ensure the services they use have the most up-to-date security protections. Cloud providers, such as Microsoft, are resourced to focus on security,” says Adrienne Hall, GM of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing. “In transitioning the management of a portion of security functions, resources are freed up to focus on other areas of security or on different IT projects altogether.”