A new study [PDF] by security researchers at BeyondTrust gives Microsoft's Windows 7 a thumbs up when it comes to security. It finds that while the hundreds of thousands of active malicious users worldwide (if not millions) may be able, in some cases, to compromise the operating system, the risk of that happening can be greatly reduced with proper rights administration.
That may sound like common sense. However, for years Windows has been the butt of jokes from the likes of Apple, Inc. and others for being "insecure" and "full of viruses".
And to some extent some of that criticism was apt. Windows for more than a decade has been the world's most used operating system, with over a billion active Windows users operating today. That means that attacks from cybercriminals focused on Windows users, rather than focusing on Mac users, who enjoy a comparatively small market share, in many respects. And while past versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista were relatively secure, often times they were not secure enough to safeguard users from all dangers.
Proper management of administrative rights -- regardless of the OS -- has always been a good way to minimize attacks. On Windows 7, though, which comes packed with new memory protections, BeyondTrust says that rights management can prevent not just some, but nearly all security risks.
It found in its study that 90% of Windows 7 vulnerabilities to date and 100% of Microsoft Office vulnerabilities found last year could have been safeguarded against by taking away users' administrative rights. Doing so would have also have protected against 94 percent of Internet Explorer vulnerabilities and 100 percent of Internet Explorer 8 vulnerabilities. This is especially pertinent as hackers from China used flaws in Internet Explorer 6 to steal data from Google in late 2009.
Limiting administrative rights can be a bit inconvenient. Often times power users may have to have administrative rights regranted and then taken back away under such a regime. However, as the BeyondSecurity report indicates, the investment in time pays off.
States BeyondTrust EVP of corporate development Steve Kelley, "Enterprises continue to face imminent danger from zero-day attacks as new vulnerabilities are exploited before patches can ever be developed and deployed. Our findings reflect the critical role that restricting administrator rights plays in protecting against these types of threats."
For what it's worth, Microsoft has been trying to preach this point for over a decade to Windows administrators. A 1999 TechNet post from Microsoft informs, "Unauthorized or unknowledgeable people who have administrator privileges can maliciously or accidentally damage your organization if they copy or delete confidential data, spread viruses, or disable your network. It is vitally important to properly manage the users and groups that have administrative control over the servers and domain controllers in your network."