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MS freebie anti-virus scanner auto-downloads provoke more anger

Promoting security monoculture is baaad, m'kay?

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Panda Security has joined with Trend Micro in attacking Microsoft for offering its Security Essentials freebie security scanner as an automatic download.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) has been available for more than a year, but it only began offering the software via its software update mechanism last month. The download is only offered to Windows users who aren't already running anti-virus software.

Specialist anti-virus firms have criticised the auto-download move, arguing that Redmond is restricting choice.

Juan Santana, chief exec of Panda Security, said that Redmond's move is likely to promote a monoculture of anti-virus software that is bad for overall internet security. Corrons wants Redmond to offer a choice of freebie scanners rather than the simple option of downloading MSE.

"We agree with Microsoft; it’s better to have some protection than not having any at all," Santana argues in a blog post. "However, the way the guys in Redmond are executing the idea is risky from a security perspective and could very well make the malware situation much worse for internet users. That’s why we encourage Microsoft to continue using Windows/Microsoft Update but instead to push all free antivirus products available on the market, not just MSE."

Panda's criticism echoes earlier objections from Trend Micro, which said that MSE automatic downloads were potentially anti-competitive. Suppliers of alternative free-of-charge anti-virus scanners - AVG, Avira and Avast - are yet to comment in the issue. Each has previously said that interest in their freebie scanners has not been affected by the availability of MSE. The business model of each relies on converting a small percentage of users of their respective freebie products into paying customers.

Just before it offered Security Essentials as an automatic download to the great unwashed, Redmond began offering the product to small business. This move threatens to eat away at the security sales from the likes of Panda and Trend to small business and may be the real source of both of the firms' objections to the way Microsoft Security Essentials is getting promoted, though neither is saying as much.

Microsoft, meanwhile, says that its security software is being released through Microsoft Update and not Windows Update. Microsoft Update already offers security updates for Office and Windows Media Player, it said, so what's the problem?

In a statement in response to El Reg's questions on its stance, Trend Micro rejected this argument, saying consumers would likely just accept Redmond's download without considering possible alternatives.

In principal, we welcome Microsoft or anyone else entering into the security market to provide more choice for customers - even if it’s just baseline protection. As we mentioned previously, our concern is about any mechanism or tactic that may obscure that choice for consumers. While techies may recognise the difference between “Microsoft Update” and “Windows Update”, many consumers may not be familiar with this distinction or see any difference between optional and recommended updates from Microsoft.

Trend declined to address our question on whether or not it planned to formally object to Microsoft's new auto-download approach to Security Essentials as anti-competitive. ®

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