Microsoft's antimalware effort

Microsoft has a cadre of antimalware tools. Most are free, but some current and forthcoming options are commercial. Any marketplace entry by the Redmond-based company becomes an immediate formidable foe lessening competitor profits.

Many analysts are asking if Microsoft, which could be blamed for creating the very insecurities that Windows malware is exploiting, should be able to reap additional profit from closing those same holes? The company's worst critics are worried that key vulnerabilities could be left in Windows longer to benefit additional Microsoft revenue streams.

I think it is a fair question, and I encourage the discussion and debate. I admit to having mixed emotions, but I ultimately support Microsoft's objectives as long as they compete in the antimalware marketplace fairly. Here's why.

First, it might be helpful to review Microsoft's newest antimalware tools. They are the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), Windows Defender, Live OneCare, and Microsoft Forefront Client Security.

MSRT is automatically downloaded and run every month when the normal Patch Tuesday patches are installed. MSRT looks for and removes the most popular critical malware threats; the current version (http://www.microsoft.com/security/malwareremove/families.mspx) looks for 75 different malware families. It can be downloaded and run on demand by connecting to this site (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=ad724ae0-e72d-4f54-9ab3-75b8eb148356) .

Windows Defender is Microsoft's beta antispyware tool, which the company picked up during the Giant Software Company acquisition (http://weblog.infoworld.com/techwatch/archives/000961.html) . It looks for and removes spyware, adware, and other potentially malicious programs and hacking tools. It provides real-time protection, blocking the installation of monitored items into more than 100 different Windows locations. It scans all downloads arriving via Internet Explorer and Outlook, and is able to perform on-demand scans of local media.

Windows Live OneCare is Microsoft's subscription-based PC protection service (http://www.windowsonecare.com/) for nonenterprise computers. For US$49.95 a year, OneCare will cover up to three PCs, giving you antivirus, antispyware, host-based firewall, performance tune-ups, backups, and automated Windows patch management. About the only thing it is missing is e-mail antispam protection.

Microsoft Forefront Client Security (formerly known as Microsoft Client Protection) is designed to compete against the established industry players in the UTM ( unified threat management (http://www.infoworld.com/article/06/03/06/75527_10FEutm_5.html) ) arena, such as McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro. Forefront leverages several other Microsoft product technologies (Windows Defender, OneCare, etc.), but can be distributed as a single client agent and managed using Active Directory. Microsoft also purchased and rebranded (http://weblog.infoworld.com/techwatch/archives/001076.html) an Exchange antivirus product called Antigen (look for the InfoWorld Test Center's review of Antigen in the coming weeks).

Despite all these tools, I'm not sure Microsoft will immediately crush its competition, if it competes fairly. Microsoft doesn't have a stellar past record of doing well in the antimalware field. Microsoft entered and left the antivirus market back in the days of MS-DOS 6.0 because they couldn't be competitive. They have been promising better antimalware tools for years now, and they still don't have mature tools on the market. What they have brought out isn't as good as what the competitors already have.

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