August 9, 2004 2:26 PM PDT

Security vendors face new kid on block: Microsoft

Security vendors face a new competitor with Microsoft's release of the Windows XP update, but they say the software giant's security features have yet to cause them concern.

The Service Pack 2 update, which includes a built-in firewall and pop-up blocker, falls short of offering the robust security features provided by a number of stand-alone security vendors, according to industry players. But some analysts note that the future is less secure, as Microsoft begins to bundle an increasing amount of security applications into the operating system.

"The gradual inclusion of firewall features is definitely a threat to the likes of McAfee and Zone Labs and other security vendors," said Stephen O'Grady, a senior analyst at RedMonk. "At this point, it's not a huge threat, because Microsoft isn't offering antivirus software--which is the bread-and-butter of McAfee and others. But is this a step Microsoft may take down the line? It could be."

Microsoft has offered few details about its antivirus ambitions. The company has said it is looking into an antivirus service, and it's reportedly also considering a stand-alone product.

Vendors who may be affected the most by Microsoft's XP update are companies like Zone Labs that primarily focus on firewalls, O'Grady said.

"They cut their teeth on firewalls, and although they recently started doing antivirus, for the most part, they are still a firewall company," he said.

Representatives from Zone Labs and McAfee, however, begged to differ.

"We've seen a lot of analysis, and (SP2) seems to help with only one type of vulnerability," said Fred Felman, marketing vice president at Zone Labs. "But it doesn't help with other security risks like hacker attacks...It's not very robust. And on the enterprise side, it lacks robust management tools."

SP2 features a basic integrated firewall that prevents possible points of entry, in addition to preventing applications from contacting the Internet, unless the user provides express permission to undertake the effort.

McAfee, known for its antivirus software, said it's not threatened by the security features in SP2 and anticipates that the update will lead to more consumers becoming familiar with its products over time.

"I think our firewall is much more robust and extends the functionality that is lacking in SP2," said Brent Lymer, a McAfee senior director. "When you have inbound and outbound messaging on the firewall, it bombards users (with notices). McAfee has pretrust applications, so it reduces the number of messages received and the likelihood a user will disallow an application that they should allow."

McAfee expects to benefit from the XP update, as users become inundated with warnings or calls for action from activity along the firewall. These users will come to realize the volume of activity that occurs at the firewall due to the messaging but may seek another firewall vendor, such as McAfee, to solve the security issue, Lymer noted.

Security vendors, however, applaud Microsoft's efforts to add a pop-up ad blocker.

"The cool thing in SP2 is that the browser helps users stop pop-up ads that might have evil links," Felman said.

4 comments

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That takes me back...
Sure, Microsoft's a major threat in the Anti-virus arena, well maybe it will be this time around. Does nobody remember MSAV (that's Microsoft Anti-Virus) and, my personal favorite, the perpetually useless VSafe. These two came bundled with MS-DOS 6.xx and Windows 3.1? Those products had as much to do with anti-virus as what SP2 has to do with a firewall. In other words, the XP firewall will be great...until you get hacked, just like MSAV was just peachy until you got a virus.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Who would trust Microsoft with security?
Based upon the holes in Microsoft's current lineup, who in their right mind would really trust Microsoft with their security?

Third parties will remain more responsive to security and virus threats. They don't build the holes, they just fill them.
Posted by ScottSkibell (2 comments )
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My bet
My bet is that in a few years MS will ask customers to deactivate their firewall like their antiwirus software due to security concerns.
Posted by lgmbackman (35 comments )
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SP2 is good news for AV companies.
SP2 comes with a firewall but it is not _that_ much different from the functionality of the last one, just a friendlier interface.

Popup blocking is a nice feature, but it is something offered by Google toolbar and many others.

SP2 does not come with AV software, however. Install SP2 on a computer without AV software and it will nag you to install some, referencing this page:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/sp2/antivirus/default.mspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/sp2/antivirus/default.mspx</a>

So currently MS is basically hooking up their AV partners, I wonder why they are not complaining.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
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