XP: Fertile for Rootkit Infections

Monday, August 1, 2011 @ 12:08 PM gHale

Users beware: Computers running Windows XP make up a huge amount of infected PCs that can spread malware to other systems.

With Windows XP about 10 years old, it obvious has its share of issues, but according to a survey from Avast, a Czech antivirus company, the amount of rootkit infections are out of proportion to the operating system’s market share.

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XP accounts for about 58% of all Windows systems in use, 74% of the rootkit infections found by Avast were on XP machines.

XP’s share of infections was larger than Windows 7’s, which accounted for 12% of the malware-plagued machines, even though the 2009 operating system runs on 31% of all Windows PCs.

Rootkits have become an important part of the most sophisticated malware packages, particularly botnets, because they mask the infection from the user, the operating system and most security software. By installing a rootkit, the hacker insures the compromise goes undetected as long as possible, and the PC remains available to the botnet’s controller so it can send things like spam or spread malware to other machines.

Avast attributed the infection disparity between XP and Windows 7 to a pair of factors: The widespread use of pirated copies of the former and the latter’s better security.

“According to our stats, as many as a third of XP users are running SP2 [Service Pack 2] or earlier,” said Ondrej Vlcek, the chief technology officer of Avast. “Millions of people are out of support and their machines are unpatched.”

Vlcek assumed people running XP SP2, which Microsoft stopped supporting with security patches a year ago, have declined to update to the still-supported SP3 because they are running counterfeits.

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