Microsoft’s security moves throw industry into confusion

Microsoft’s recent announcements over forthcoming anti-virus and antispyware have thrown the security community into confusion with some companies eyeing the Microsoft’s strategy as a business opportunity for the rest of the industry, while others fear a repetition of the browser wars.


The likes of Lavasoft, says its product Ad-Aware ‘far surpasses the offering from Microsoft.’ But it seems unlikely – given historical precedents of browsers and media players – that consumers will feel much motivation to pay for a solution when they already have Microsoft’s one free.

Raimund Genes, Trend Micro’s President of European operations, is more downbeat. ‘There is some threat to the antispyware industry. I think a lot of independent antispyware companies stand to lose or go out of business. No, I think they will not survive,’ he said.

However, if the antispyware community doesn’t act, perhaps the EU may take an interest on the anticompetitive aspects of such a move. Says Genes: ‘If [Microsoft] say they will bundle [antispyware] for free, then maybe the European Commision will look into it. They already sent us a request for information about the Symantec merger with Veritas, so they’re very hot on this.’

Andrey Nikishin, Head of strategic development and Market research department, at Moscow-based Kaspersky, which provides a highly respected antivirus engine used in both corporate and consumer products, agreed: ‘From a users’ point of view, this step is really promising because users can get good anti-spyware software for free. However, from business point of view the situation looks very familiar, sort of déjà vu – when Microsoft has released Internet Explorer, the browser market ceased.’

Genes added that Microsoft already presents an attractive target for attackers, and its security products will do likewise. There have already been viruses that turn off its antispyware solution. ‘Maybe we’ll see more viruses because of this,’ he says.


In his speech at the RSA, Gates also outlined plans to release an antivirus product for consumers by the end of the year, which will later be available through for Sybari products, a company it acquired that provides a front-end for multiple virus engines.

Sophos’ senior technology consultant Graham Cluley said: ‘I think a lot of antivirus companies breathed a little bit of a sigh of relief. Perhaps they thought the announcements would be more significant, but all that was said was a consumer version of antivirus would be available by the end of the year. They bought their antivirus company 18 months ago, so if this is the turnaround time, let’s hope their updates are a bit quicker.’

Antivirus companies are now seeing Microsoft as a direct competitor. Something that Genes said Microsoft had previously promised it would not do. ‘Microsoft pitched Service Pack 2 as its security offering at an IDC conference in the middle of last year and promised that it would not compete with the antivirus industry. One week later in an interview with the Financial Times, Steve Ballmer said that he believed there was a business opportunity for security for Microsoft,’ he said.

Certainly Cluley too thinks that Microsoft ‘in the consumer market could be successful,’ threatening the likes of McAfee and Symantec.

While McAfee were not forthcoming in commenting on the issue. Kaspersky’s Nikishin, however, issued a call to arms for the antivirus industry. ‘I hope that Microsoft won’t make it free of charge, but it is more likely that we’ll encounter it. Microsoft, covering itself by the pompous idea of protecting personal users, will make the market collapse.

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