6 Reasons Why Windows 8 Is More Secure Than Windows 7

Official release of Windows 8 is a talk of the town right now. Some think it's just a new visual interface slapped on top of Windows 7, and if you think so, I'm afraid you are wrong! Windows 8 has seen a lot of security improvements, including an inbuilt antivirus, an application reputation system, and protection from boot-time rootkits and viruses/malwares.

There are quite a few low-level security improvements under the hood as well. Microsoft hasn't spelled out all of them, but Windows 8 manages memory in a more secure way and includes features that make it more secure than Windows 7 and security vulnerabilities harder to exploit.

So, here we're discussing the major security improvements that Windows has seen from transition to Windows 8 from Windows 7. There are 6 of them to be precise, so here we go.

Windows Defender (An Integrated Antivirus)

Finally, yeah finally, Microsoft has come up with an inbuilt or integrated Antivirus solution that ships with any edition of Windows 8. It's named Windows Defender - but it's just a rename of the popular free antivirus Microsoft Security Essentials. It's the same Microsoft Security Essential that you might be using on your Windows 7 PC (If not upgraded to Windows 8 yet!). Though you can any antivirus that you want on your Windows 8 machine. In such scenario, Windows Defender will disable itself automatically in order to avoid any conflicts with the third party antivirus. Though you need not to do so, as Windows Defender is a very capable product that you won't need any third party antivirus. Moreover, it's deeply integrated into the system that ensures that Windows users will finally have an integrated antivirus protection out-of-the-box.

There is an Anti-Malware Solution As Well

In Windows 8, the booting priority of the antivirus is set higher than any other components. Which means that at boot time, first the antivirus will start and will check drivers for any suspicious malwares. This greatly protects the PC from the rootkit attack that starts before antivirus and hide from them. Windows Defender starts earlier in the boot process out-of-the-box, and third-party antivirus vendors can also add the Early-Launch Anti-Malware (ELAM) feature to their products.

Secure Boot

On new Windows 8 computers that use the UEFI firmware instead of the old-style BIOS, Secure Boot guarantees that only specially signed and approved software can run at boot. On current computers, malware could install a malicious boot loader that loads before the Windows boot loader, starting a boot-level rootkit (or “bootkit”) before Windows even launches. The rootkit could then hide itself from Windows and antivirus software, pulling the strings in the background.

On Intel x86 PCs, you’ll be able to add your own security keys to the UEFI firmware, so you could even have your system boot only secure Linux boot loaders that you’ve signed.

Improvements in Memory Management

In this area, Microsoft has made many under-the-hood improvements compared to Windows 7 in Windows 8. When a security hole is found, these improvements can make the security hole harder or even impossible to exploit. Some types of exploits that function on earlier versions of Windows wouldn’t function at all on Windows 8.

Microsoft hasn’t spelled out all of these improvements, but they have mentioned a few:
  • Mitigations that were once applied to Windows applications are now also applied to the Windows kernel.
  • ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) has been extended to more parts of Windows, randomly moving data and code around in memory to make it harder to exploit.
  • Internet Explorer 10 includes improvements that make 75% of the security vulnerabilities reported over the last two years more difficult to exploit.
  • The Windows heap, where Windows applications receive their memory from, includes additional checks to defend against exploit techniques.
If you're interested in exploring all the improvements, they can be found here.

Sandboxing of The New Apps

Apps for Windows 8’s new Modern interface (formerly known as Metro) are sandboxed and restricted in what they can do on your computer.

On the Windows desktop, applications had full access to your system. If you downloaded and ran a Windows game, it could install drivers on your system, read files from everywhere on your hard drive, and install malware on your computer. Even if programs run with limited credentials thanks to UAC, they typically install with Administrator privileges and can do anything they want during installation.

Windows 8 apps function more like web pages and mobile apps on other popular mobile platforms. When you install an app from the Windows Store, that app has limited access to your system. It can’t run in the background and monitor all your keystrokes, logging your credit card number and online banking passwords like applications on the traditional Windows desktop can. it doesn’t have access to every file on your system.

Apps for Windows 8’s new Modern interface are also only available through the Windows Store, which is more controversial. However, users can’t install malicious Modern apps from outside the store. They’d have to go through the Windows Store, where Microsoft has the ability to pull them if they’re discovered to be malicious.

Smartscreen Filter

Previously used only in Internet Explorer, the SmartScreen filter is now implemented at the operating system-level. It will be used to scan EXE files you download from Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and other programs. When you download and double-click an EXE file, Windows will scan the file and send its signature to Microsoft’s servers. If the application is known-good, such as the installer for iTunes, Photoshop, or another popular program, Windows will allow it to run. If it’s known-bad, perhaps if it contains malware, Windows will prevent it from running. If it’s new and Windows doesn’t know what it is, Windows will warn you and allow you to bypass the warning.

This feature should help less-experienced users from downloading and running malicious programs from the Internet. Even new pieces of malware will be detected by the SmartScreen filter as an unknown new program that should be approached with caution.

So, the conclusion is that Windows 8 is definitely more secure than Windows 7. An integrated antivirus and application reputation system, along with a tamed app ecosystem that replaces the wild-west nature of previous versions of Windows, will probably make the most difference for inexperienced users that may not have ran an antivirus or knew which applications were safe to install on previous versions of Windows. Low-level improvements to the way Windows manages memory will help everyone, even power users like us!