Microsoft has published a special edition Security Intelligence Report (SIR) on the factors that contribute to differences in malware infection rates around the world, showing that Europe leads the way.
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The report – which comes as the European Union publishes its new cyber security strategy and proposed directive on network and information security – provides information about what countries with low malware infection rates do differently to those with high infection rates.
The study by Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing’s Global Security Strategy and Diplomacy team looks at the relationship between socio-economic factors and malware infection rates in105 countries.
The team identified 34 factors that correlate with malware infection rates. These include indicators such as broadband penetration, use of mobile devices and Facebook usage.
The study found countries with the lowest malware infection rates, on average, had more personal computers in use per capita, higher health expenditure per capita, greater regime stability and higher broadband penetration.
Read more about Microsoft Security Intelligence Reports
Many locations around the world are included in this group, but the largest concentration, of 43%, were in western Europe.
This was followed by 29% in central and eastern Europe and 17% in the Asia-Pacific region.
On average, this group of countries had only 5 systems infected with malware per thousand scanned by Microsoft, compared with the worldwide average of 8.9 at the time.
The data is collected using the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), which runs on more than 600 million systems around the world each month.
Microsoft balanced the data to remove bias created by factors such as population size, to create a worldwide infection “heat map”.
The proportion of pirated software to licensed software in the best-performing countries was only 42% on average. Half of these countries had either signed an international treaty or voluntary code related to cyber security.
In contrast, those countries with the highest malware infection rates typically had low broadband speeds, low broadband penetration and high crime per capita.
This group was also made up of many locations from around the world, but the largest concentration, 52%, were in the Middle East and Africa, followed by 21% in Asia Pacific and 10% in Latin America.
On average, this group of countries had 18 systems infected with malware per thousand scanned by Microsoft.
This is three times the malware infection rate of the highest performing countries group and double the worldwide average.
Microsoft urges government role
“For the many people around the world that have asked me about this topic, this new study gives us a few more pieces of the puzzle by providing more insights into the socio-economic factors and public policies contributing to differences in regional malware infection rates,” said Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing.
“We hope that this data is valuable to policymakers and IT professionals alike as they examine malware trends in their own regions and plan accordingly,” Rains said.
The report said that, by identifying the underlying principles of certain policies that are correlated with over-performance in cyber security – such as intergovernmental frameworks for cooperation and voluntary codes of conduct – policymakers can develop approaches more likely to be effective in combating the evolving threats in cyber space.
“To meet our future security challenges in cyber space, Microsoft urges governments to participate in a broader dialogue on normative standards to better protect citizens on the Internet that includes perspectives from the ICT industry,” the report said.
The report concludes that this process develops rules of behaviour in cyber space that can reduce threats, increase confidence and trust, and help improve security of the cyber ecosystem at the international level.