Ten years of Windows malware and Microsoft's security response

Ten years of Windows malware and Microsoft's security response

Summary: They don't make malware like they used to. Literally.Back in 2002, Microsoft and its customers were forced to deal with an unprecedented outbreak of attacks on Windows that threatened the company's survival. In this gallery, I show how malware authors and Microsoft's security response have evolved over the past decade.


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  • Up until this worm appeared, most malware was the work of vandals. Mydoom was, according to Microsoft’s security analysts, “one of the earliest examples of a botnet and for-profit malware.” You can read technical details in these writeups from Avira and SecureList.

    Upon execution, the malware opened a message window in Notepad, displaying nonsense text. In the background, it installed its payload, which then proceeded to send out email messages using its own SMTP engine and the victim’s address book. If the recipient clicked the attachment, they became part of the botnet and began spreading it to their friends as well.

    The worm also used file-sharing programs like Kazaa to spread its payload.

    The authors of Mydoom included several taunting references to Netsky in their code.

  • The work that eventually became XP SP2 was originally supposed to be a new version of Windows. But the multiple security threats that had hammered Microsoft over the previous several years caused Microsoft to concentrate all work on security and de-emphasize changes in the user interface.

    As Windows boss Jim Allchin later told Mary Jo Foley, the decision to make this a free service pack and not a paid upgrade was a deliberate attempt to maximize its adoption. Microsoft had seriously underestimated the security challenges that it would confront with Windows XP, and the improvements in SP2 really did make a difference.

    For businesses, it offered much better administrative tools and deployment options than Windows 2000. For consumers, it included the Security Center shown here, which has continued to evolve to this day.

    And it turned on the Windows Firewall by default, fixing the mistake that had been so helpful to earlier network-based worms.

  • In January 2005, Microsoft released the first version of the Malicious Software Removal Tool. It has updated this tool and delivered it as part of the Patch Tuesday update delivery every month since then. The goal of the MSRT is to remove “specific, prevalent malicious software families” from supported Windows versions.

    It’s been extremely effective at its primary job, cleaning up millions of PCs in the past seven years. An unanticipated benefit of releasing the monthly tool is that it provides Microsoft with copious amounts of data about the prevalence of malware “in the wild.”

    Full details about the MSRT, including a list of which families of malware were included in each monthly update, is available in a lengthy and well-maintained Knowledge Base article.

Topics: Windows, Malware, Microsoft, Security

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  • phishing in Mozilla Thunderbird

    I use Mozilla Thunderbird on a Windows 7, 64-bit computer. When I open an e-mail that has a link and run my cursor over that link, Thunderbird no longer presents the livelink encoded beneath what appears in the e-mail. Previously, another respondent stated that his phishing display worked in Mozilla Thunderbird and suggested that I need to tweak a setting. Needless to say, I can't find that setting, and I have looked thoroughly.
    • Turn on the status bar...

      @binstock: All you have to do it turn on the status bar. If your main menu (File, Edit, View, ...) is not displayed then tap the ALT key to display it, then select "View > Toolbars > Status Bar" to restore it.
      • success in Mozilla Thunderbird anti-phishing


        Thank you! I will feel much safer as I've read life's overabundance of e-mails.
  • Very interesting

    I found this interesting. Luckily I haven't been a victim of any of these. :)
    • Neither Have I

      So by the logic of some of our Apple trolls, none of these pieces of malware was ever a genuine problem and that they are all exaggeration and FUD.....:-)
      Doctor Demento
  • Remembering Blaster

    I was interning at an aluminium plant when it broke out in summer '03. I remember the MIS Manager rushing out of his office alerting everybody we have a problem. The update of systems seemed primitive back then, since a fellow intern and I had to burn CD's and go out into the plant and update systems in some obscure locations to prevent Blaster. We had a Windows Server 2003 test box setup in the office and it was the first to get his with RPC error. Good times, but lots of annoyances as well. The interesting thing, if your system was up to date, you weren't affected. I believe the weekend before it had been let loose Microsoft had released a patch, because I remember informing a friend from high school about it.
  • Break Down of Viruses and malware for each Windows version

    I would like to see a break down of viruses and malware for each Windows version, not patches, but Windows 95, 98, ME, 200, XP, XP SP2, Vista, and Win7.

    On other post I keep hearing how windows has thousands upon thousands of malware and viruses, but how many for each version? To me a malware/virus for Win95, most likely would not affect Windows 7, and vice versus.
  • Windows Defender Doesn't Defend

    It is the only product I have ever used in 23+ years in IT that has allowed multiple desktop infections in a three month period. This was on my own Windows 7 machine -- I've been in IT for 23+ years and learned long ago to be very cautious. In one case, it claimed to detect an attempted infection and clean it, while in fact the infection continued in the background and I had to smash it manually in Safe Mode. AVG Free and Malware Bytes (both also free) combined do a better job for routine home use malware protection.

    I'm a big Microsoft fan, but they are still newbies compared to others when it comes to malware protection (although they have become extremely good at patching their code). Like many of their products, Microsof bought Forefront, they did not create it. I haven't used Forefront, but they still have a ways to go before they are up to par with Windows Defender (which uses the same engine as Forefront).
    • windows defender? you should've installed windows security essentials

      as far as I know Microsoft Forefront is a full Microsoft product. if you're so sure that they bought it please tell me which company they bought it from and what was the previous name of the product? thanks. I would really like to know. I did a simple bing/google search and found nothing of the sort. so I think I little help would be fine. thanks.
      • Defender info


        No, incorrect, I should not have installed Windows Security Essentials, mainly because it was not available to the public at the time, lol. I was referring to the standalone Windows Defender product prior to Security Essentials that was supposed to protect against spyware. In my case, it failed.

        On a related note, I also use Security Essentials on Win7 Pro, and it has also allowed multiple infections (this calendar year) that I had to clean manually.

        As for Forefront, you are incorrect again. It used to be called Antigen, from a company called Sybari that Microsoft bought in June, 2005.

        A little more effort on your part would also be fine. :-) Thanks.
  • The big change in WinXP sp2 was that there were breaking changes

    Windows XP sp2 was the first time that MSFT released a service pack that included multiple, major breaking changes. Software that had worked on previous versions of Windows could break once XPsp2 was installed. Before the Trustworthy Computing Initiative, the idea of breaking compatibility like that in a release (let alone a service pack) was anathema in Redmond.
    • NX memory pages

      The first real game changer in Windows security architecture.
      Lester Young
  • You forgot something - the Sony `rootkit` fiasco

    For those not [u]lucky enough[/u] to have been afflicted with it, all you had to do was to play a audio CD from one of Sony's labels on your PC. (For your reading pleasure: http ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_copy_protection_rootkit_scandal )

    Now, you know why scraped windows off my system, and now use Linux!
    • Oh, come on, that's not Windows' fault

      It wasn't your fault either. You loaded a CD from a trusted source (Sony). Windows installed the driver from the CD (I think it was signed by Sony), and the $%&@#s installed a root-kit on your box. My guess is that if a trusted source (like say, Sony (before this fiasco)) put driver code up in Linux repositories, it would be trusted and installed on Linux boxes.

      That Sony is still a "trusted" name in consumer electronics is a bit of a surprise. Then again, the Wall Street bond rating agencies are still around too.
      • RE: that's not Windows fault

        Some comments:

        First, In a way, it was, no thanks to [i]Autoplay[/i]. An audio CD [b]should NOT[/b] have been allowed to install software!!!! How long did it take Microsoft to disable this?

        Second, the complicity by AV companies, and to an extent, Microsoft, in dealing with it.

        Third: [i]That Sony is still a "trusted" name in consumer electronics[/i]; which is why, I have no sympathy for them WRT being hacked. [b]That[/b] (hacking) does not extend to distribution of potentially identifiable information. Teaching Sony, and its brazen executives a lesson, is one thing; passing out credit card numbers, etc, is another.

        Fourth: [i]Wall Street bond rating agencies are still around too[/i], simple, just remember the `golden rule`: [b]He who has the GOLD, rules[/b] (aka `Money Talks, Bulls--- Walks`)

        Fifth: [i]...a trusted source (like say, Sony (before this fiasco)) put driver code up in Linux repositories, it would be trusted and installed on Linux boxes.[/i] You are probably right, however, once the s--- hit the fan, the bad code would have been pulled, and workarounds would have appeared. FOSS supporters have always had a good reason [b]NOT[/b] to trust any DRM scheme.
  • He mentioned TDL4!

    He mentioned TDL4! Now what is that anti-Microsoft person going to do?

    Forget his name, but he accuses ZDNet of never mentioning that one [i]all of the time.[/i] To the point where it's rather annoying.

    I'm gonna link to this article now whenever he shows up and accuses ZDNet of a coverup . . .
    • Glad you noticed

      I'm sure he'll have some other bugaboo that will be up next that I have ignored. ;)
      Ed Bott
  • Windows Security

    I have to commend Microsoft for stepping up and admiting they had a problem and fixing it. I think their software is very secure and I will continue using it.
  • Windows XP Firewalls

    The initial release of Windows XP included a horribly ineffective firewall which was not enabled by default.

    Windows XP Service Pack 2 included a totally different and effective firewall which, however, also was not enabled by default.
    • winXP firewall

      at the time Microsoft basically were just coming off the hot presses of being accused branded a monopoly, it was in their best interest to not enable said firewall by default, plus they had to make it less effective than those on the market. the regulations placed on them burnt many consumers.