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Windows 7 may be more secure, but its UAC is less functional than Windows Vista's, according to a recent security study. The study suggests that only antivirus protection can properly protect Windows 7.  (Source: Switched)
Antivirus protection still necessary, says firm

One of the most unpopular features of Windows Vista among casual users was the User Account Control (UAC).  Ironically, while the UAC provoked irate comments from these users, like "why is my computer asking me to approve everything", the feature was one of the most appreciated features by power users as it gave them much more control over their security and ability to prevent inappropriate actions.

With Windows 7, Microsoft pledged to go the OS X route on this topic, tuning down the UAC's warnings to a lesser level.  Many security firms complained about this approach and Microsoft relented slightly, restoring some of the UAC's warnings, in particular a warning about the disabling the UAC altogether (experts showed that attackers could disable the UAC without prompting the user in early builds of Windows 7).

While these changes helped make Windows 7's release edition more secure than the test builds, the UAC's default setting is still neutered compare to Vista's robust solution, indicates Sophos Senior Security Adviser Chester Wisniewski.  He's just completed a study of attacking Windows 7 with malware and seeing how the new UAC responds.

Of the ten pieces of malware tested, Windows 7 wouldn't install two of them.  Of the remaining eight only one generated a UAC warning, allowing the user to disallow its installation.

Microsoft officials, though, minimized the test, saying the UAC just isn't that important a security feature anymore.  They point to Windows 7's improved memory protections and Microsoft free Security Essentials antivirus suite as two critical tools that can be used to fight infection, in addition to the UAC. 

States a Microsoft spokesperson, "Windows 7 is built upon the security platform of Windows Vista, which included a defense-in-depth approach to help protect customers from malware; this includes features like Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), User Account Control (UAC), Kernel Patch Protection, Windows Service Hardening, Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) and Data Execution Prevention (DEP)."

"Windows 7 retains all of the development processes, including going through the Security Development Lifecycle, and technologies that made Windows Vista the most secure Windows operating system ever released," the spokesperson added. "Coupled with Internet Explorer 8—which includes added malware protection with its SmartScreen Filter—and Microsoft Security Essentials, Windows 7 provides flexible security protection against malware and intrusions."

While he understands that with other supplemental protections Windows 7 will likely be safe, Mr. Wisniewski seems mildly disapproving of defaulting the UAC to reduced functionality.  After all, users of Windows Vista may be lulled into a false sense of security expecting prompts to save them from malware.  Ultimately, though, there's little that can be done to convince Microsoft to change this, though, and he concludes, "Lesson learned? You still need to run antivirus [protection] on Windows 7."

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RE: Flawed Methodology
By erple2 on 11/5/2009 3:55:21 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't call the test nonsense, but ...

The issue at hand is that there are applications that you can run on the local machine that can gain elevated privileges by running them as a non-privileged user. UNLESS they're actually running these things as an Admin User to begin with. In which case, the entire testing methodology is total garbage. Once you are root, there's little to nothing you can't do on a standalone machine, regardless of whether it's a Mac, Linux, or BSD machine, including accepting connections...

Perhaps I'll have to read the methodology again to see what they really did.

RE: Flawed Methodology
By rs1 on 11/5/2009 4:43:59 PM , Rating: 3
The malware apps didn't gain elevated privileges, at least not as far as I understand it. They just managed to install/run for the current user, without performing any operation that required elevated privileges. I assume that the 3 that actually did get flagged were the ones that tried to perform some privileged action.

Malware doesn't always need elevated privileges to do its job. To use linux as an example (because picking on Windows would be a bit cliche), a trojan could execute without elevated privileges if it ran its server on a port >1024, and only allowed access to/modification of files belonging to the user that ran the trojan program. A keylogger could run without privileged access if it worked by editing the current user's .bashrc to spawn the key-recording process whenever they logged in. And so on.

As I understand it, the malware apps that made it past UAC did the same thing. It's not that they were able to exploit some hole to gain privileged access (which would be a legitimate bug), it's that they are able to do their job without needing privileged access in the first place (which is just the reality of computing...unless the user's privileges are so restricted that they can't do anything useful, then somebody's going to be able to come up with a program that can use just the user's privileges to do something malicious).

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