Microsoft Launches Anti-Spyware Beta, Plans Release Of Virus Removal Tool

The two free tools signify more of Microsoft's baby steps into the security software market. Microsoft publicly stated its intent to enter the antivirus market when it acquired antivirus technology from GeCAD Software in 2003, but the Redmond, Wash., software giant has yet to ship a product or a service.

The Windows Anti-Spyware beta, available for download, is a spyware prevention, detection and removal solution that Microsoft obtained in its acquisition of Giant Company Software, New York, last month. Microsoft, which previously said the beta would be available this quarter, wouldn't say when the final product will ship.

On Jan. 11, Microsoft plans to roll out a tool that consolidates three fixes it previously offered for removing viruses and worms dubbed Blaster, MyDoom and Download.ject. Microsoft said the combined solution will be available through the Microsoft Download Center, Windows Update and Automatic Update.

Although Microsoft is offering tools to deal with spyware, viruses and worms, antivirus software kingpin Symantec noted that Microsoft still doesn't market an antivirus tool. In a statement, Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec said such virus-removal tools are important to have once a system has been infected, but Microsoft's tool won't protect a system from getting viruses.

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Microsoft faces a variety of market pressures to make Windows more secure, ranging from customer anger over past viruses and worms that have infected Windows networks to growing use of the Mozilla FireFox browser--an alternative to Internet Explorer--and America Online's recent integration of antivirus services in its online service.

One published report this week said that, down the road, Microsoft plans to offer an antivirus and antispyware subscription service code-named A1. A Microsoft spokesperson did not deny the report, but said the company has nothing to announce at this time. Microsoft has done trials of subscription-based managed services for consumer PCs in the past and "will continue to evaluate various methods to work with customers as part of its ongoing effort to build trust in computing," the spokesperson said.

Two sources familiar with Microsoft plans said the software giant has a comprehensive plan to offer antivirus and antispyware software as part of the core Windows operating system as well as on a subscription basis. However, they said it's not clear if the offering would be provided free or sold at a one-time cost or on a subscription basis.

Microsoft has traveled a rough road in the security arena. After the delayed release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 in August, customers ran into application incompatibilities that forced many businesses to hold off on deployment. Microsoft also announced plans for its Network Access Protection Software for the Windows Server 2003 R2 update would be cut and pushed back to a future release.

Yet one New York security consultant said Microsoft is taking the right steps and will likely become a dominant player in the antispyware and antivirus markets, even though it will take time to gain share against entrenched antivirus players such as Symantec and McAfee.

"Microsoft needs to be seen as aggressively fighting the ongoing security vulnerabilities that have plagued its operating systems and applications," said Adam Lipson, president and CEO of Network and Security Technologies, Pearl River, N.Y. "I would assume that Microsoft can take over market leadership in the antispyware stuff pretty fast. On the antivirus side, the players are so much more mature than on the spyware side I don't think Microsoft can dominate the market, at least not right away. Given enough time, they will probably have the dominant product," he said.