Why Does Windows Have So Many Viruses? A Perspective On Microsoft’s Biggest Foe

Many people who use Windows probably wonder why viruses and Trojans plague this operating system so much compared to other operating systems. Few people actually understand how viruses work and what they do, and even fewer know how to make one. Today, I was asked by someone why Microsoft has viruses and other operating systems don’t. The answer to this question is a very complex one, but we’ll explore it in detail in this piece. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll have understood why Microsoft has to constantly step up security.

Viruses are pieces of software written to take command of a system and exploit its vulnerabilities. Some of them are destructive (i.e. those that erase your hard drive) and others have more strategic purposes (i.e. those that use system resources to attack another system). Most viruses replicate by sending themselves via email attachments, social media links, or other methods that can reach your friends and family. This is why it’s important to stay a step ahead of them through security solutions like antivirus software.

Windows has been, and still is, the most popular operating system in use today. It’s not clear how popular each version of the operating system is (thanks to piracy), but we know that the system overall is seen in most houses and campuses. There seems to be some correlation between viruses and popularity. Naturally, since Windows is so popular, it’s more likely to be a target for viruses, since the developers have a broad base to operate with. They’re not going to bother with an operating system that has 10 million users when they have more than a billion to work with if they target the most popular one.

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So, naturally, there’s a bad side to being popular. Case in point: The Mac has seen an uptick in sales lately and Apple comes out admitting that Macs can get viruses. Shortly before Apple’s statement, a virus for Mac did appear, called the Flashback virus.

But, to be fair, it’s not all about popularity.

Microsoft has had an almost hilariously bad history of releasing software with several vulnerabilities. The KB patches you always download from Windows Update are usually packed with security fixes that take care of vulnerabilities that Microsoft has not foreseen.  A very well-known example of a poor security practice was Windows XP’s autorun feature. It would run anything within “autorun.ini” file from removable media, allowing the executable that runs to replicate itself onto your hard drive and, subsequently, download itself into USB drives that you pop into it. This was also a vulnerability in Vista, to some extent.

That was Microsoft’s bad, and it really didn’t anticipate that anything could go wrong by blindly following the instructions of a text file. The amount of exploits in Windows has died down as soon as Windows 7 came out, but there were still a lot of security vulnerabilities within the system. People are speculating that Windows 8 may be the most secure version of Windows up until now.

Since many computers still run vulnerable versions of Windows, it’s very difficult to tell how long the security threats will last. The only thing you can do to protect yourself is to install a good antivirus software and be very careful the files that you open, either online or offline.

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