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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 Yawgm0th on 11/5/2009 11:27:59 PM , Rating: 1
That makes their whole test nonsense. I'm sorry, but if you tell your machine to execute a piece of malware, then you deserve to end up with a piece of malware running on your system.
While on the one hand I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, let me play Devil's advocate.

Half the point of UAC is that it warns the user if an executed application needs higher privileges. Many programs that people download do not need higher rights to achieve what they desire. UAC is a way of letting the user know that. In some ways, it is a way for the more tech-savvy amongst us to know if a downloaded application is trying to do something it shouldn't.

Furthermore, it definitely can help prevent accidentally running an application that a user did not realize was an application. In the world of digital IP piracy, files downloaded from the USENET (sorry for breaking rule #1), bittorrent, or P2P networks are frequently some sort of malware rather than the described file. An extremely common technique is to include apparent "self-extracting" Zips and Rars, which in fact are neither. Even more common is to give the application the Windows Media Video or Audio icon so as to make it appear like the multimedia the user was searching for.

In any case, why should Microsoft protect pirates and less-savvy users from manually running malware? Because it's in everyone's best interest, especially Microsoft's. It is a smart security feature. The vast majority of intrusion occurs through social engineering, Trojans, and any other willful (but not knowing) execution of malware. Obviously remote exploits and application exploits should still be a big concern, but just because user behavior is the cause of a security breach doesn't mean there aren't technical solutions (UAC) to that user behavior.

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