January 6, 2005 10:27 AM PST

Microsoft launches anti-spyware beta

Microsoft on Thursday introduced a beta version of its Windows AntiSpyware application.

The product is designed to help protect users of Windows products from spyware--software that's secretly installed on people's computers for a variety of purposes, such as bombarding them with pop-up ads and tracking their Internet usage. The company claims the anti-spyware tools will help people keep their computers running faster and with fewer Web-related glitches.


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The beta, which is available for download on the company's Web site, was built using technology Microsoft gained through its December acquisition of Giant Software, which specialized in spyware-fighting tools. Microsoft said that in addition to loading the software with the capability to combat many known strains of spyware, the company will continue to research emerging forms of spyware and to offer automatic updates to the product to fight new threats.

Microsoft executives said the company has not decided yet whether the anti-spyware package will launch as a stand-alone item or as part of one of its Windows products. They also indicated that there is no set time frame for the package's official release.

Amy Carroll, director of product management for Microsoft's Security, Business and Technology unit, said the company has been focused on getting the beta out to users as quickly as possible, to begin helping in the fight against the spyware epidemic. She said the beta was created in 21 days after the Giant acquisition.

"Our goal is to focus on getting customers protected from the bad guys," Carroll said. "People are reporting spyware-related issues to Microsoft more than ever, and we've seen that over one-third of the people reporting crashes in our applications are actually dealing with spyware problems."

Carroll said that Microsoft is also encountering an increasing amount of spyware that goes beyond creating simple nuisances such as pop-ups. These pose the threat of enabling more serious crimes, such as identity theft, or of causing significant computer performance problems.

She pointed to a compatibility issue that Microsoft experienced just after the launch of Windows XP Service Pack 2 as partially caused by a hidden spyware application.

The look and feel of the anti-spyware beta is similar those of products from vendors such as McAfee and Norton, which offer people the ability to launch manual scans for unwanted applications and to program the tool to run automated searches. Microsoft's application is designed to monitor all system and software changes made to a particular computer and launches pop-up announcements to let customers know when the system has detected an attempt to install spyware.

The software, designed to work with the company's Windows 2000 and Windows XP operating systems but not with earlier versions, asks that users validate their existing Microsoft software via an online authentication process before downloading the anti-spyware tools. However, the company does give the option to skip the validation process.

Interestingly, one of the first messages generated by the anti-spyware tool is a recommendation to turn off Microsoft's own Windows Messenger Service, a program the software cites as a "wide source for pop-up message spam." However, Carroll said this function was intentional, as the company had previously encouraged customers to shun the application as part of the SP2 release.

Microsoft said users of existing Giant anti-spyware applications should continue to use those tools. The company was also quick to point out that the beta release is merely a first version of the software that the company is distributing for feedback and testing purposes.

The software maker is also working on an antivirus package, which is likely to be a standalone application. The tool is expected to be released sometime later this year. Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group of Milford, Mass., said the software maker will probably wait until the second half of 2005 to begin its efforts in full.

"I don't think Microsoft is in a hurry here. The rumor is that the company will enter the PC security space in the third or fourth quarter of this year," Oltsik said. "My guess is this means a direct attack on Norton and McAfee in the retail channel. This market is booming, so an entrance before next holiday season makes sense."

In addition to the anti-spyware beta, Microsoft announced that starting on Jan. 11, it will begin providing tools for removing malicious software to customers running Windows 2000 and later versions. The company said updates to the applications will be made available on a monthly basis as part of its scheduled security updates, or more frequently if necessary. The package will consolidate many of the individual software removal tools the company has already released.

12 comments

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impressive
I tried using the program this morning and it found 3 pieces of spyware that other programs missed. With the new pop-up blocking in IE and their new spyware program windows should become safer on the internet. I've still moved to Firefox because IE is lacking features other browsers support and I don't feel like using a 3rd party IE shell program.

For those who are still using IE I would highly recommend their new spyware program.
Posted by metric152 (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Validation?
I decided to download the spyware to a Win98 machine only to be asked to first Validate my version of Windows.
"Before obtaining the requested download, please take a moment to validate your genuine Microsoft Windows installation. Validation assures that you are running an authentic and fully-licensed copy of Windows."
So I jump through that hoop and am then allowed to begin my download.
After my download I am told that the Spyware Tool is only for Win 2000 and XP and will not work on my version.
I would think this might be a detail that would be caught in the validation process prior to wasting my time downloading.
Posted by Steve000 (56 comments )
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re: Validation
You are right about the product validation, the product asked me to verify I had genuine XP. Microsoft started slipping this in a while ago when attempting to download their updates -- which are mostly security patches!

The irony is that compromised Windows systems, whether they are licensed or not, hurt everyone. How many compromised MS systems that have been hijacked are turned against MS itself to launch denial of service attacks? How many computers in China, India, etc. are running LICENSED versions of Windows? So Microsoft, in their own best interest - if they truly had a big-picture view, would offer security tools for free to all Windows users instead of trying to profit from product deficiencies.


Keith, www.techcando.com
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Link Flag
First Impressions
Things I found after trying the beta:

1) Some incompatability with ZoneAlarm. Had to launch program manually.

2)Programs sucks up some processor cycles. Over time, after layering on a firewall, antivirus, ad-blocker, spyware detector all in real-time you will need to think about a hardware $upgrade. For now, I turned off the beta real-time activity and will just do manual scans.

3) The program flagged VNC as spyware, which it really is not.

4)Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Use other spyware detect programs as well -- many will at least do the scans for free, and you can remove the offendors manually. No single spyware detector seems to find everything.

5) Given that MS has such a poor record of addressing security problems with their products, I will continue to pay for protection from 3rd party vendors. Use MS protection products only if they are free, but don't nake them your primary protection tools.


Keith, www.techcando.com
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good points.
Spyware is a problem caused by Microsoft's lack of competence. This program wouldn't have been needed at all, if Microsoft could code programs that didn't have MAJOR flaws that would expose the entire system to hijackers. I understand that no program is without its flaws, but when you look at Microsoft's track record, one questions the quality of not only the Windows operating system, but the anti-spyware itself
Posted by hion2000 (115 comments )
Link Flag
security problems
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/chrysler_pacifica_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/chrysler_pacifica_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Al Johnsons (157 comments )
Link Flag
New OS needed, not more anti-spyware!
Microsoft should just give up making Windows and start from scratch. They will not support the community with a sound OS, so anti-spyware technology is the answer?

There are sound anti-spyware programs available for free download now.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://searchwars.squarespace.com/free-software-downloads/" target="_newWindow">http://searchwars.squarespace.com/free-software-downloads/</a>

Is this just another profit center for them like their forced upgrades to the flawed SP2 update?
Posted by anthonycea (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No a new browser is needed....Which is already here.
Every person's computer I've installed FireFox on has been adware free since that time. With one exception. I installed Java on someone's system and apparently a site has started using java as a install method. The user clicked yes when it prompted do you want to run this applet.
A new OS does nothing if you have dumb users. Even on OS X if a virus prompts for a root pasword and they provide it.....the OS means nothing without at least basic computer practices. User do not understand that a computer is not a toaster. You don't simply plug it in and go. Its more like a car. It needs tuneups and you need to know how to drive it safely. I wouldn't at all be suprised if in the future there WILL be required courses in school to teach saft computing habits.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Link Flag
Ahh you are talking about FireFox.
Seriously people who don't even give Firefox a try deserve all the headaches they get with adware.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It needs to remain a standalone product...
If this thing is imbedded into Windows the same thing will happen to it as Internet Explorer. It needs to remain something that only Microsoft knows what is under its hood. Don't screw this up too Microsoft.
Posted by PCCRomeo (432 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FireFox and Coolwebsearch...
First off I think MS's program is great, however if Mac has that headless Mac next week, I could give a damm about any of this, because I'm trading in for a Mac.

But since using FF, I HAVE NO SPYWARE OR ADWARE!!!

However from my days of being an idiot of using IE I had coolwebsearch and that focker is still floating around on my pc. Spybot, adware, MS's prgram and even coolweb shredder can't seem to get rid of it. My MS program keeps quarentineing it, even though I try to remove it.

Oh, and if you don't use FF, you are asking for trouble...
Posted by saleen351 (36 comments )
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