McAfee’s AV study shows why Win8’s Defender is needed

And why Microsoft should extend it to older and pirated Windows.

McAfee’s estimate that 17 per cent of PC users worldwide do not run AV is why Microsoft should extend its Windows 8 enhanced Defender-by-default to older and even pirated Windows.

“With the increasing number of global cyber-attacks affecting consumers, it is critical that the 17 per cent of consumers that are unprotected update their virus protection before it’s too late,” said [[xref: |McAfee’s consumer boss, Steve Petracca|]].

Gartner estimates that planet earth will host 1.78 billion PCs by 2013. Assuming McAfee’s data is right, this means roughly 300 million PCs across the globe will run naked on the net by next year.

Even when security vendors push antivirus on consumers and follow it with pop-up notifications that it’s time to pay, a significant proportion not only won’t pay, but won’t install a number of free antivirus products.

This is neither McAfee's, nor Symantec's or Microsoft's fault. A certain proportion of consumers -- and businesses, according to a 2009 study by the Australian Institute of Criminology -- just won’t do what’s “critical”.

And as botnets show, security is not about the individual but the ecosystem the individual is part of. Botnet operators don't care whether a machine is running a properly licensed or pirated copy of Windows. Scale can be achieved on both.

Microsoft’s analysis of antimalware in the first year of Windows 7’s 2009 release suggests the rate of attrition for pre-installed antimalware is higher than the 17 per cent across all Windows from NT to 7 that McAfee was presumably counting.

Antimalware was near ubiquitous for Windows 7 machines when Microsoft first released it in 2009 but a year later just 76 per cent were running AV, which Microsoft guessed was due to consumers not paying for pre-installed AV.

The good news with Windows 8 for ‘overall security’ -- if one bad apple affects the cart -- is that it won’t matter that consumers and SMBs don’t act on the prompts delivered by pre-installed malware. Windows 8 will get a seriously enhanced version of Defender, giving it the same qualities as Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) for prior versions of Windows, which included real-time detection of viruses, worms, bots and rootkits.

Defender will be the default unless a consumer chooses a third-party product. Consumers won’t need to “update” anything, leaving the world closer to day one of Windows 7 release than day 365.

The bad news in the short term is that it will take time for Microsoft's Windows 8 Defender to become the dominant default. Until then, the users today who didn't install some form of free AV probably won't change their behaviour tomorrow.

Microsoft’s enhanced Defender might not be able to take down botnets in the same way as its Digital Crimes Unit can, but it could help limit the supply of PCs that become a botnet's herd of zombies.

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