Microsoft has launched its long-awaited free anti-malware product, called Security Essentials. This is aimed at consumers and Microsoft has said that it intends to secure people who currently have no protection. Nevertheless this move will inevitably reshape the market. Its competitors will have to offer their customers value-added services beyond basic malware protection.
Two big questions have finally been answered
The long wait is over. Microsoft Security Essentials is available as a free download from the Microsoft website. We now know that:
Microsoft will not bundle the product with Windows, although it will allow PC manufacturers to install it on new machines
Microsoft will only download the product to machines with a legitimate copy of Windows, as verified by running Windows Genuine Advantage. This represents a divergence from its previous policy of allowing anyone to use security products to enable the entire Windows user base to benefit from a more secure global environment.
We sympathise with Microsoft on both these points. The first should ensure that the announcement will escape any action from competition regulators. The second shows that Microsoft is mindful of its core financial interests, even when dealing with security matters. It also recognises that in todays world the biggest threat comes from infected web servers and that end-user PC protection is a matter of self-interest.
Initially Security Essentials will be launched in 19 countries, predominantly in the developed world, but including Mexico and Brazil. This will not fulfil Microsofts stated intention of reaching the worlds unprotected PCs and we look to Microsoft to expand the geographical coverage of this product as rapidly as possible.
Security Essentials is not a complete security package
Security Essentials is a low-end tool. It has a small footprint and is particularly attractive for sub-PC devices such as netbooks. It uses low bandwidth. It stops viruses, spyware, rootkits and Trojans, but only through signature detection. It does not protect against browsing infected websites, although there is some protection against this menace in Internet Explorer 8. It is a consumer tool, with no central management facility, making it unsuitable for use in an organisation with more than a handful of PCs. It does not address the spam problem.
Security products should be judged by their effectiveness. We do not know how this product compares with products already on the market in this respect, but we expect it to be comparable. Comparisons are difficult because the threat landscape is changing very rapidly and many laboratory tests fail to recognise that some viruses are more active and dangerous than others. Evidence tends to be anecdotal. Beta testers of the product have generally reported favourably on it. Security Essentials shares many components with Microsofts mainstream Forefront enterprise security products.
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