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MS opens up Security Essentials downloads from today

Suite intended for 'millions' of unprotected users

Reducing security risks from open source software

Microsoft plans to release the final version of its free-of-extra-charge anti-malware scanner later on Tuesday

The application, Microsoft Security Essentials or MSE (formerly Morro), is designed to provide consumers with basic protection against Trojans, computer viruses, spyware and rootkits. The product lacks the personal firewall, backup and PC tuning features found in OneCare, the paid-for consumer security software discontinued by Microsoft back in June.

Cliff Evans, head of security and privacy at Microsoft UK, said he was personally sorry that OneCare was discontinued, but argued that MSE offered a better chance at improving overall internet hygeine.

“We want everyone to have up to date anti-malware because this is good for the Windows eco-system. Surveys by campaigns such as GetSafeOnline reveal that 50 per cent don't have up to date security software installed.

“Cost and confusion are partly to blame for this, which is why we've released a full feature anti-malware scanner as a free download.”

A beta version of MSE was released by Microsoft in June. Demand far exceeded plans for limited trials, prompting Microsoft to shut off downloads after less than a day. Early tests of the software by German testing lab AV-Test.org were largely favourable, while noting that the security suite lacked the behaviour-based detection of malware found as standard in most paid-for consumer security applications.

Microsoft said the full version of the product features "Dynamic Signature Service", a technology that ensures users are always up to date with the latest anti-virus definitions without having to wait for the next scheduled download.

Evans explained that this technology includes heuristics that check the behaviour of potentially suspicious files and also whether they have already been classified as malicious.

In a nod to user potential user concerns about system hogging and nagware, Microsoft also promised that the software is "designed to run quietly in the background alerting the user only when there is an action for them to take".

Change up

MSE will compete most directly against free software security packages AVG and Avira. These firms have traditionally distributed free cut-down anti-malware products as a way of increasing brand awareness, hopefully resulting in increased sales of paid-for, full-fat consumer security suites. Symantec and McAfee all make a substantial slice of their antivirus sales from consumers, with much of the success coming from pre-loading their software on to new PCs. Consumers are arguably less likely to pay for a full-feature product when a cut-down product is available for download from Microsoft at no charge.

Microsoft's Evans said the technology will not come bundled with Windows 7, nor pushed as part of the Windows Update patching process. He did leave open the possibility that OEMs may decide to bundle the technology, however.

“We're making Microsoft Security Essentials free to download but we're not going to push it down to people. Some OEMs may choose to include the software as a free bundle but that's the closest it'll ever come to being pre-installed,” Evans explained.

Microsoft said its primary targets are the millions of Windows users that currently have no protection at all, rather than any concerted effort to poach users from McAfee and Symantec and certainly not for workplace PCs. For business customers, Microsoft is continuing to offer Forefront Client Security, which provides centralised management and reporting capabilities. MSE might be appropriate for consumers and home offices, but businesses of all sizes need to look elsewhere.

Microsoft Security Essentials will be available for download from 1700 BST on Tuesday in eight languages and from 19 countries. These include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and the US.

The software requires no registration, trials or renewals but does require the installation of Microsoft's unloved Windows Genuine Advantage. XP, Vista and Windows 7 versions of the software can be downloaded from here.

MSE is designed to co-exist with third-party personal firewalls but not other anti-malware scanners, a limitation common to other anti-virus apps. ®

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