Australian PC users worse at patching Windows than New Zealanders, but both lead US: Secunia

New security patching techniques in Microsoft's just-released Windows 10 may prove particularly useful to Australian PC users, who are less likely to have applied security updates to their operating systems and applications than their neighbours across the Tasman, new figures from vulnerability intelligence firm Secunia have revealed.

The average Australian PC has 81 programs installed from 28 different vendors, 40 percent of which are Microsoft programs. Fully 12.4 percent of PCs are running unpatched versions of Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows Vista and 11.6 percent of installed programs are unpatched non-Microsoft applications.

Just 9.7 percent of New Zealanders, by contrast, were running unpatched versions of Windows – although they had a similar percentage, 12.2 percent, of unpatched non-Microsoft applications. US users, by contrast, were less adept at patching: fully 13.2 percent of American PCs are still running an unpatched version of Windows.

Users in all three countries were equally likely to hold onto applications well after their end-of-life, with 5.7 percent of the programs on the average Australian PC, 5.8 percent of NZ applications and 5.5 percent of American applications no longer being updated by the vendor.

End-of-life programs include versions such as Adobe Flash Player v17, which still has 78 percent market share in both Australia and New Zealand but was being exploited by hackers to launch new malvertising attacks as recently as May.

Even more worrying, 20 percent of Australian PCs and 22 percent of NZ PCs were still using the deprecated Adobe Flash Player v16, which was hit by no fewer than three separate zero-day attacks in February alone.

Just 16 percent of US users, by contrast, were still running v16. The current version 18 debuted earlier this month with improved defences against exploits.

The figures, which come from the company's latest Q2 PSI Country Reports, collated information from the millions of users of the company's Personal Software Inspector (PSI) tool around the world.

The portrait they paint – of long-unpatched applications lingering on client PCs much longer than they should – has a direct impact on overall security profiles and highlights the differences between the updating habits of PC users in Australia, NZ, the US, and elsewhere.

A recent Google study of user behaviour found that patching was one of the key areas where security experts were more likely to be diligent than non-experts, and Microsoft has designed Windows 10 to silently deliver and install patches on a continuous basis, without always sharing much information about what it's doing.

Interestingly, a per-application breakdown found that Australia's sixth most-unpatched application was uTorrent for Windows 3.x, which was installed on 21 percent of users' computers but unpatched in 49 percent of cases.

uTorrent was installed on just 16 percent of NZ computers – 34 percent of which were running unpatched versions – while the application didn't rate in the top 10 amongst US users. This statistic reflects the relatively high usage of BitTorrent by Australian users, who will soon come under the purview of new anti-piracy laws enacted by the Abbott government.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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