Emerging Asia most vulnerable to malware

Bangladesh and Pakistan have the highest malware encounter rates around the world, followed by two other countries in the ASEAN region – Cambodia and Indonesia, according to Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report.

That those countries were most susceptible to malware is hardly surprising, given their high software piracy rates. About one in four PCs running Microsoft security products in these emerging economies reported a malware encounter from January to March 2017.

Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam did not fare any better. Each of those countries had an average malware encounter rate of over 20% during the first quarter of 2017, more than double the global average of 9%.

Developed Asia-Pacific markets with more mature IT practices – like robust and effective patch management processes – such as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore did better than the worldwide average.

Among developed economies, Japan did the best, having been ranked the “safest country in the world” with just 2% of its PCs infected by malware, according to Microsoft

In spite of the high malware infection rates among developing APAC countries, the region curiously suffered the least damage in the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks.

Microsoft said the attacks were disproportionately concentrated in Europe while most in Asia were not too heavily impacted.

The software giant did not offer answers to why this was the case. Experts have suggested that in the WannaCry incident, Asia walked away relatively unscathed because the malware only started spreading on Friday in Europe, which was early Saturday morning in Asia when most businesses were offline.

According to Malwarebytes’ Jeff Hurmuses, the threat was further contained by the ransomware’s kill switch that was discovered by a 22-year-old in southwest England.

What can businesses do to combat the upward trend in malware in developing Asia? Short of sounding like a broken record, this includes keeping systems updated and patched, maintaining basic cyber hygiene like using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, as well as implementing user access controls.

With three in five pirated software CDs and DVDs sold on the streets in developing Asia plagued with malware, governments can also do their part to reduce software piracy in their countries by implementing and enforcing a strong intellectual property protection regime, which can also spur economic development and innovation, beyond combating malware.