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MS virus clean-up tool sparks controversy

False sense of security?

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Microsoft debuts a malicious software removal tool today. It represents the first tangible fruits of Microsoft's June 2003 acquisition of Romanian anti-virus firm GeCAD Software.

The Microsoft Windows malicious software removal tool consolidates utilities released by Microsoft to remove viruses such as Blaster from infected systems. This clean up tool will be made available through Windows Update or as a separate download and updated on the second Tuesday of each month under Microsoft's monthly software security update process. Microsoft hopes the tool will be widely used and is releasing it free of charge.

With monthly updates and limited functionality, Microsoft's tool is best used to clean up infection from PCs; it isn't much help in preventing virus infection in the first place. Microsoft advises users to use third party anti-virus scanners and advocates Windows XP SP2 as a defence against viral infection. The company is also taking a more active role in the fight against spyware with the release last week of the first beta version of Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware.

Beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans

Despite the limited scope of the clean-up tool, some anti-virus firms annoyed that Microsoft is treading on their turf. John Cheney, CEO of email filtering firm BlackSpider Technologies, said consumers might wrongly come to believe Microsoft's tool protected them from virus infection.

"The signature-based AV solutions, such as the GeCAD solution purchased by Microsoft performs poorly against fast-moving virus outbreaks. It will be interesting to watch how well Microsoft performs in the update / patch management process, where speed is essential to minimise damage from a virus outbreak, compared with the big AV vendors who have years of experience in producing and testing virus signatures quickly," he said.

"Microsoft should spend more time, energy and money addressing its own security weaknesses inherent in its products, which are exploited by virus writers and hackers, and less time trying to erode the businesses of existing security vendors."


BlackSpider neglects to mention that conventional anti-virus scanning software is far from foolproof either, even when signatures are kept up to date (which often doesn't happen). That's part of the reason Microsoft released a Blaster clean-up tool, the widespread use of which eventually led to today's more comprehensive clean-up tool. This may be no great shakes but could help reduce the number of Windows PCs infected with mass mailing worms. Months-old worms like NetSky-P continue to top virus charts, so something must be done. ®

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