Microsoft: IE9 SmartScreen Measures Malware Probability

Dennis Faas's picture

According to a new report from Microsoft, 1 in every 14 PC programs found on the web are laced with malware.

The statistics come courtesy of the Redmond-based firm's Internet Explorer SmartScreen filter, which is designed to figure out a program's reputation before proceeding with a download.

The SmartScreen filter first appeared in Internet Explorer 7 and continues to be developed with Internet Explorer 9. The latest edition of SmartScreen now checks the reputation of downloads. (Source:

"Using reputation helps protect users from newly released malware programs -- pretending to be legitimate software programs -- that are not yet detected by existing defense mechanisms," noted Microsoft SmartScreen program manager, Jeb Haber. (Source:

SmartScreen: "Up to 99% Effective"

Every time a user clicks on a download, SmartScreen examines the file's popularity and history against other legitimate websites serving the same file.

If SmartScreen finds the download in question to be new and of questionable origins, it will flash a warning to the user that the file is "not commonly downloaded and could harm your computer." (Source:

Unsurprisingly, Haber's a big fan of SmartScreen, which he says is capable of avoiding up to 99 per cent of all infections from downloaded malware.

Haber believes reputation screening is a viable option for not just Windows PCs, but also more mobile technologies, like tablet computers and even smartphones. Using reputation to protect against malware goons may be particularly useful for open-source mobile devices like those employing Android technology.

SmartScreen Limitations

Unfortunately, there are limits to the SmartScreen filter, and platforms like it.

SmartScreen doesn't do a particularly good job protecting against security holes in web browsers and content players, such as Adobe Acrobat and Reader, both of which are vulnerable to attack if a user visits a specially-designed and malicious web page.

And even when users are warned that a "download... could harm your computer," about 5 per cent still click on, Microsoft says.

New Strategies Needed as Malware Threats Rise

In the end, even Haber says that web users will need new strategies in order to fend off the rising amount of malware found online.

Backing him up in that claim is security firm Kaspersky, which in a recent report emphasized that the volume of online malware -- and in particular, malware targeting mobile devices -- is set to double this year over 2010.

It's expected that attacks launched in coming years will continue to target personal data, particularly credit card information from mobile users connected to the Internet. (Source:

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