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9/29/2009
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Microsoft Rolls Out Free AV

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) changes AV market landscape

The day dreaded by many commercial antivirus vendors is here: Microsoft today made its free antivirus software available.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), which Microsoft had code-named "Morro," basically replaces Microsoft's subscription-based OneCare product, but focuses solely on anti-malware -- detecting and removing viruses, spyware, rootkits, and Trojans. It doesn't come with security "suite" functions, like a firewall, computer maintenance tasks, or backup.

Interestingly, Microsoft is neither pushing the product via Windows updates nor bundling it with the operating system. "You have to proactively go to the Microsoft site to download it," says Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt Software, which sells enterprise AV, email, and other security tools for Windows. Eckelberry says Microsoft's freebie software is ultimately "good for the consumer."

What about commercial AV vendors? Eckelberry says he doesn't expect the software to hurt them as much as AV vendors, like AVG, that also offer free anti-malware software. While it's mainly a consumer product, he says it will also attract small mom-and-pop shops. "It won't affect enterprise SMBs because it's not manageable, so they won't touch it," he says.

Overall, Eckelberry says, MSE is good for consumer security.

Siobhan MacDermott, head of public policy, corporate communications, and investor relations for AVG Technologies, says while free AV sounds good at first glance, it could actually hurt consumers in the end.

"On the surface, a free offering from the company with a dominant market share would appear be a good thing. We believe, however, broad adoption could, in fact, put consumers at greater risk," MacDermott says. "The strength of the security community rests in its diversity of products and the innovation delivered by companies like AVG, whose entire focus is keeping our users' personal data and computers safe. It is our core business and one in which we simply cannot fail."

Because Microsoft's OS base is so large, a large community of MSE users will attract more attackers, according to MacDermott. "It is a law of numbers; large communities create large pools of opportunities for thieves," she says. "If Microsoft leverages the power of its OS market to rapidly create a large community of MSE users, we believe those customers will be doubly vulnerable."

Microsoft provided a peek at Security Essentials in June when it released a public beta version of the software.

The company says the software alerts users only when they need to take action due to a threat that's detected, for instance, and it limits CPU and memory usage.

"Consumers have told us that they want the protection of real-time security software, but we know that too many are either unwilling or unable to pay for it, and so end up unprotected," says Amy Barzdukas, general manager for consumer security at Microsoft. "With Microsoft Security Essentials, consumers can get high-quality protection that is easy to get and easy to use -- and it won't get in their way."

MSE doesn't require any registration or renewals, and is available for download here.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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