Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is a free antivirus package from Microsoft that thus far has run as a separate application for Windows users who download it. Windows 7, Vista, and XP come with Windows Defender, which catches pop-ups and spyware.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Labs, says Defender isn't a pure AV product. "With Windows 8, it sounds as if Windows Defender will be beefed up to incorporate the functionality of Microsoft Security Essentials. Effectively, Windows 8 users will be getting out-of-the-box protection against malware, as well as a firewall and parental controls," Cluley blogged today.
ZDNet reported today that along with MSE, Windows 8 also will include defenses for USB drives that are malware-infected.
Microsoft, meanwhile, wouldn't confirm or deny that Security Essentials would be part and parcel of Windows 8.
"We have made many investments in security in Windows 8, building upon the work done to improve security in Windows 7. This work included engineering system changes to find and prevent defects, low-level security features, such as Secured Boot to help defeat classes of threats, and user facing features, including Windows Defender and SmartScreen. All of these investments give us great confidence that Windows 8 will be the most secure operating system we’ve produced," a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Microsoft's decision to fold AV into Windows 8 comes as no surprise, says Ashar Aziz, CEO and CTO at FireEye. "The reality is that there are 40-plus AV engines out there. One more isn't going to fundamentally change the dynamics. The fundamental problem is that it's a commodity offering," Aziz says. "The big thing for a malware author is to make sure AV doesn't catch [his malware]. If he can bypass 40 AVs, he can bypass 41."
Whether Windows 8 with AV will provide better security hygiene for end users is unclear: The upside is that it will come with every machine and likely be updated automatically with other Windows elements. "But at the same time it's also good news for malware authors," Cluley said in his post. "You don't think they're going to ignore this development, do you? If most budget-conscious home users stick with Microsoft's built-in offering, then surely the first thing the bad guys will do is make sure their latest creation can slip past Microsoft's scanner. No doubt they'll have a new template for their fake anti-virus alerts too."
Speculation over what this means to the rest of AV industry was high today. AV firms that sell mainly to consumers would be most likely to be squeezed by Microsoft's built-in AV for Windows.
"It's understandable that Microsoft want to clean up the image of Windows -- and if commercial anti-virus vendors haven't managed to do the job, then why shouldn't they do it themselves?" Cluley said.
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