The Windows ecosystem took a major hit over the past ten days because of the WannaCry ransomware worm that affected over 200,000 machines in 150 countries, but it is Windows that will benefit from the widespread attack in the end. One version was hit the most – Windows 7 – while another was not even targeted because it was safe – Windows 10. Let’s look at how this will impact the movement of users from Windows 7 to Windows 10 – the biggest challenge that Microsoft has been facing with their latest desktop OS version.
According to a recent report from Kaspersky Lab, an overwhelming 97 percent of machines running their products were on various versions of Windows 7.
These are only machines running Kaspersky security software, so the results may be skewed, but there’s no denying the fact that Windows 7 was the worst hit by the WannaCry ransomware attacks.
According to Reuters, another source, BitSight, found that 67 percent of the attacks targeted Windows 7 machines with open SMB (Server Message Block) ports, the vulnerability on which the WannaCry ransomware exploit was built.
What’s significant about the Kaspersky Lab report is that Windows 7 x64 Edition was the version targeted the most. That’s the one primarily used by enterprise companies. The attacks on smaller businesses and home editions were far fewer. However, it is possible that small businesses and individual users will have been more likely to pay the $300 equivalent Bitcoin ransom to retrieve the decryption key from the attackers, since they won’t have the IT resources to investigate or remediate the problem.
And that brings us to the real reason that Windows 7 instances of the attack were much higher than any other version. It is because Windows 7 is the most used desktop operating system in the world. And that’s not just among Windows machines; that’s across the entire desktop user base across the globe.
According to data from NetMarketShare for April 2017, no less than 48.5 percent of all desktops are running Windows 7.
This information now leads us to the real beneficiary of the WannaCry ransomware attacks – Windows 10. Because Windows 10 has security patches for the exploit used in the attacks, as well as more robust malware detection and remediation features, no Windows 10 machines were targeted – simply because it wouldn’t work.
As a result, a significant number of enterprise companies could already be speeding up their migration to Windows 10. It’s a logical move, since ransomware is on the rise, new strains of WannaCry are already rearing their ugly heads, and businesses simply cannot afford to be compromised in this debilitating way. Not for a second time.
What’s really frightening is that security experts believe that the situation will get worse before it can get better, and that it will last for at least the next 12 months.
“It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, as it’s going to be one of the most serious threats for the following 12 months.
While a security researcher managed to temporarily stop the threat from spreading by registering a domain name – hardcoded within the malware – that acted as a kill switch, preventing the threat from infecting other victims, it was only a matter of time until a newer version would emerge bypassing this temporary setback.”
– Catalin Cosoi, Chief Security Strategist at cyber company Bitdefender
So the threat is not going away that soon, and it is now a widely known fact that Windows 7 machines face the greatest risk, even from a sheer user base perspective, if not a security one.
With Windows 10 becoming more a question of an essential security move than a preference of OS versions, we’re very likely to see a spike in Windows 10 adoption rates for May 2017 and beyond.
Microsoft has done everything in its power to get Windows 7 users to move to Windows 10, even frightening them with security scenarios at one point. It has warned users several times that Windows 7 poses a huge security risk to them. It made Windows 10 free for a whole year to get consumers to move. It even left a back door open for individual users to upgrade – a door that’s still open for a free Windows 10 upgrade.
For all those efforts, the Windows 10 user base needle barely registered any move since the Anniversary Update was made available in the second half of 2016.
But things are different now. People have seen what a cyber attack is capable of, and they’re afraid of being attacked again. Who wouldn’t be?
That is possibly going to be the biggest boost to Windows 10 usage numbers in the coming weeks and months. And you can be sure that Microsoft is going to be putting in even stronger, more granular security measures in Windows Defender, WD Advanced Threat Protection, Microsoft Edge and so on, in new builds of Windows 10 leading up to when Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will be released later this year.
As soon as we have validation of this surge in movement from Windows 7 to Windows 10, we’ll report the numbers, so stay tuned.