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Thoughts on the recent report that 80% of Windows machines on the internet are spyware infected, why, and what needs to be done.

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Hello everyone, this is Leo Notenboom of Ask Leo, on the internet at, with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

I recently heard that some study showed that over 80% of Windows computers on the internet were infected with some form of spyware or virus. That's 4 out of every 5 computers. That's both amazing and scary.

Now, before the anti-Windows folks barrage me with a flood of "that's why everyone should switch to Linux or Mac", I'll tell you that I'm convinced that if Linux, for example, had the market share Windows does, we'd be talking about 4 our of 5 Linux machines being infected. Or 4 out of 5 Macs, if Macintosh ruled the earth. There are simply vulnerabilities in all software.

The fact is Windows has overwhelming market share, and with it comes the big bullseye that all the virus and spyware writers are aiming for.

In my opinion the real cause that infections are so widespread, is simply that the vast majority of computer users don't run anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and most of those that do, do a poor job of keeping it up to date. Face it, running anti-spyware software that's six months out of date is pretty close to not running any at all.

Don't get me wrong ... I'm not blaming the user. In an ideal world the users should never have to care about this stuff. Computers should just work.

So, what's the solution?

For now: education. The computer literate need to spread the gospel about the importance of firewalls, malware scanning, and keeping the scanners and operating system up to date.

The future, I believe, looks a lot like Windows Automatic Updates and the new Windows Anti-Spyware tool. Scanning, and updating, should by default happen transparently and without thinking. They should be included in, dare I say it, the operating system, and like the operating system, updates should be free. Disable it at your own risk, if you're paranoid, but the less we expect the average computer user to have to do, the more successful he or she will be at doing it.

But for now: preach - Anti Virus, Anti Spyware, Firewalls, Updates.

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Article C2306 - March 15, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Terry Hollett
March 22, 2008 10:04 AM

Lets not forget, and I'm not bashing Microsoft, although it may sound like it, but not everybody can aford to run out and buy a supercomputer everytime Microsoft decides to shove a new operating system in our face.

From the year 2004 to Nov 2007, my main computer was a P2-266mhz with 64MB RAM. It had WinXP Home edition with SP1. I could not put SP2 on because it bogged down my system to much. I disabled automatic updating and system restore and dispite this I'm proud to say I've never had an infection.

Of course I had antivirus, adware, firewall and so on. The point is there are still a lot of people out their with older systems, that can't afford to update. But as Microsoft decides to upgrade so does the security industry.

I have Avira AntiVir personal Edition and they no longer support Win98 or ME. Microsft doesn't even support XP with SP1 anymore. I wonder how many computers are infected because there is no protection available anymore.

I hear a lot of people say, "Oh, computers have come down in price" - I like to throw my computer at these people. I currently have a P2-400mhz system, but only because I got lucky at a yard sale, it cost me $20.

Terry Hollett
March 22, 2008 10:07 AM

Just a note to the above comment. I disabled system restore to conserve hard drive space, which was 4GB at the time, the hard drive size that is.

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