One in ten UK Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 users are running an unpatched version of the operating system and one in twenty still uses software that is so old it will never be patched again, the latest Q4 vulnerability report from Danish firm Secunia has found.
The figures are drawn from users of the firm's free Personal Software Inspector (PSI) tool (user numbers are not revealed), which one might assume was downloaded by more security-conscious users. The figures still reveal a concerning scale of vulnerability and patching problems on the aging Windows platform.
The average number of programs detected was 74, covering 26 vendors. As one would expect, Microsoft dominated with about 30 of those.
As to what was vulnerable, again Microsoft dominated, with 53 percent of vulnerabilities recorded, led by the stunningly bad performance of Internet Explorer which recorded 248 in 2014. This is an issue analysed in some depth earlier this month by security firm ESET, that also noted the bumper crop of remote code execution (RCEs) issues in the browser.
Making matters worse, three quarters of these were in Internet Explorer 11 which probably explains why Microsoft is reportedly about to abandon the browser for good and start afresh for Windows 10 with a new program, codenamed 'Spartan'.
"The 248 vulnerabilities report in Internet Explorer during 2014 is certainly an increase, seen over the last long period," was the hopeful comment from Secunia's director of research and security, Kasper Lingaard.
"It is too early to conclude whether it is a bad or a good sign: is it because Microsoft is becoming more focused on browser security? Is it a result of the "Internet Explorer 11 Preview Bug Bounty"? Or is it just where (both sides of) the industry has directed its focus in 2014?"
In other words, IE isn't appallingly vulnerable, simply better policed and patched. It's a theory, certainly, but it will be academic to users who somehow miss the updates and end up running a vulnerable program.
The one bright note is that thanks to Microsoft's automatic updates the number of vulnerable IE11 systems was a modest 9 percent in the UK, although one could debate whether that is still too high.
Secunia also records the most vulnerable programs and here the broad picture is as it has been for a while - Oracle's Java leads the pack for the highest number of unpatched PCs at 45 percent and vulnerabilities, which stood at 119 during Q4 2014. Apple's QuickTime and Adobe's Reader weren't far behind in terms of the numbers of users not patched against flaws.
Another noteworthy finding is that 10.6 percent of Windows OS installations were not patched, a figure that excluded the famously flaw-ridden Windows XP but did include Vista. This sounds quite high and could be caused by delayed patching in small businesses or simple user complacency.
Less surprising was that 5.8 percent of systems had end-of-life programs on them that were no longer being patched. It's not hard to see how this happens - people install a program, forget about it and never bother to patch it.
This brings up is the real issue that Windows users face. Microsoft dominates the software found on PCs but at least it employs only one patching system for its software. Secunia found that updating the rest of the software on the average UK PC would require using a staggering 25 different patching mechanisms to function.