The spread of malicious software that can harm computers and open gateways for hackers and identity thieves is on the rise according to Microsoft.
The amount of so-called malware and other unwanted software found on computers rose 43% in the first half of the year, the company said Monday. More than 90% of the vulnerabilities affected applications, while only about 10% impacted operating systems, according to Microsoft, which released the data in its Security Intelligence Report.
The report "gives us a chance to share our extensive analysis of the threat landscape and related guidance with our customers, partners, and the broader industry," said Vinny Gulloto, general manager for Microsoft's Malware Protection Center, in a statement. "We are also committed to applying the data and intelligence from the report to our research and response efforts to provide customers with increased protection and services," said Gulloto.
The report also showed that trojan downloaders and "high-severity vulnerabilities" are on the rise as well. Most hackers are motivated by financial gain, Microsoft said.
Microsoft systems are targeted by hackers more frequently than other systems, mostly because the company's Windows technology resides on about 90% of all computers.
Microsoft said that there are a number of steps that computer users can take to help protect their systems from external threats. They should frequently check for, and apply, security updates—including updates from third-party application providers. They should make sure that their firewall is enabled and install up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
And, said Microsoft, PC users should use caution when opening links and attachments embedded in e-mails, even if the e-mail is from a trusted source. Hackers often use links to direct users to phony Web sites in a technique called phishing.
A copy of Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report is available for download.