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MS mulls charging for anti-spyware app

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Microsoft is leaving its options open on charging for full versions of anti-spyware and virus disinfection tools. Speaking in London yesterday, Detlef Eckert, chief security adviser for Microsoft EMEA, revealed there will be a second beta of Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware application. However, the company remains unsure how the product will evolve from then on. "It could evolve into a consumer or enterprise product. There could be a basic and plus version," he said.

The first beta of Windows AntiSpyware is free of charge, as is recently-released Microsoft Windows malicious software removal tool. Will users be prepared to pay extra for tools from Microsoft to clean up the malware mess that is almost the exclusive preserve of the Windows desktop? Eckert thinks that they might - although he emphasised that Microsoft has made no firm decision. "Users value investment and there is a willingness to pay for it," he said.

Botnets – public enemy number one

According to Eckert, the most significant information security issue today is presented by botnets, networks of compromised PCs used by professional criminals to spread spam or launch denial of service attacks. He talked up the role of Windows XP SP2 in combating the problem, suggesting the changes to IE made with SP2 (such as a pop-up blocker and download manager) made it a "new browser" that is "more resistant to attack".

Despite the emergence of Firefox as a serious competitor to IE, Eckert said Microsoft had no plans to release an updated version of IE until the release of the next version of Windows, Longhorn. Longhorn is scheduled to arrive in 2006, but analysts reckon it is more likely to ship in 2007. Windows 2000 users can expect roll-up fixes but no further service packs before the product moves out of standard support in June 2005.

XP SP2 marked a break with tradition for Microsoft, according to Eckert. "Previously we've been religious about backwards compatibility but now Microsoft trades this off against higher security. This isn't a wholesale change - we still believe in protecting customers investments - but it does mean that we might drop support for old protocols or block risky protocols like UDP by default," he explained.

The perimeter is flaky

Security architectures need to change because of increased use of technologies such as instant messaging and wireless LANs, according to Microsoft. "The philosophy of protecting the boundaries of organisations at the perimeter is falling to pieces," said Eckert.

Firewalls were traditionally designed to guard against network-level attacks - such as IP spoofing and port/network scans - but as more sophisticated application-layer attacks, such as worms and exploits of known software vulnerabilities, have become increasingly common a need has arisen to rejig corporate defences.

Microsoft, arguably a significant part of the problem, is seeking to become part of its solution through initiatives such as support for Cisco's Network Admission Control (NAC) architecture and its own Network Access Protection (NAP) scheme, a policy-enforcement bolt-on due to ship with Longhorn in 2007. Both approaches allow sysadmin to quarantine compromised machines in order to block the spread of worms such as Blaster and Sasser across networks.

Eckert made his comments during a presentation at a security conference in London yesterday. The two-day conference was designed to stimulate interest in the three-day Infosecurity Europe 2005, due to take place in London later this year. ®

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