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Microsoft today announced its acquisition of anti-spyware firm Giant Company Software for an undisclosed amount. Redmond said it would use Giant's technology to develop tools that will help users to keep spyware and other deceptive software off their computers.

A beta version of a spyware protection, detection and removal tool, based on Giant's AntiSpyware product, should be available within one month. The tool will work on machines running Windows 2000 and above. Microsoft declined to say when a full version of the product might be released.

Spyware apps range from unwanted pop-up ads to unseen programs that record keystrokes or take over a person's PC. It can slow PC performance, change a PC's configuration or even steal passwords and personal information. An IDC study published last month estimated that 67 percent of consumer PCs are infected with some form of spyware.

Microsoft "strongly recommends" that customers use anti-spyware in conjunction with using an internet firewall on all PCs, updating all PCs regularly with the latest security patches, and running up-to-date anti-virus software. Microsoft bought little known Romanian anti-virus firm GeCAD Software for an undisclosed sum in June 2003.

At the time, Microsoft said it would use GeCAD's expertise and technology to "enhance the Windows platform" and extend support for third-party antivirus vendors. Fast forward 18 months and Microsoft is yet to announce a product strategy (naysayers reckon MS only bought GeCAD to kill of the latter's Linux server products).

Microsoft has repeatedly said it wants to work with partners in the anti-virus industry rather than compete with them in the security market. Providing baseline protection against viruses without putting the nose of anti-virus suppliers out of joint has apparently proved to be tricky. In developing an anti-spyware product, Microsoft is directly encroaching on the turf of anti-virus firms for the first time. This could herald a change of tactics that will see Microsoft taking more responsibility for fighting malware rather than relying on third-party suppliers to keep Windows clean. Releasing a tool that can remove spyware apps such as CoolWebSearch (CWS) while leaving email worms like Zafi-D untouched would tend to breed a false sense of confidence, after all. ®

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