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Microsoft Security Essentials: The big questions


Microsoft’s free Security Essentials is all set to blow the anti-virus software industry apart, offering what the Redmond giant suggests is a "high-quality, free, excellent anti-malware product".

Obviously the arrival of a free product for consumers from perhaps the biggest name in software means that the major anti-malware software companies will have to compete with what could become a 300-pound gorilla.

But in interviews with Microsoft’s UK Head of Security and Privacy Cliff Evans, Windows Client Product Manager Julia Owen and, from PC security company Kaspersky, David Emm, found out exactly what the industry believes Microsoft Security Essentials will do for security on PCs.

What exactly does Microsoft Security Essentials bring to the average consumer?

MS Head of Security Cliff Evans (CE): Consumers could uninstall their other anti-virus software, install Security Essentials and know that they are going to get a high-quality, free, excellent anti-malware product.

Our primary purpose is making sure that as many people as possible have an anti-malware product and at the moment there are barriers to that.

Something we’ve focused on enormously is the idea that this is an install-and-forget program.

It will sit there quietly, update without any fuss, and it’s integrated with all the right technologies.

This isn’t a trial, this is the full product.

MSS - free

Is this something that PC manufacturers are going to be pre-installing on new computers, or will it be left to the consumer to download the package?

Windows Client Product manager Julia Owen: Our approach is to let people know about it and give the responsibility to do that to them.

It’s the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturer’s) choice whether to install this or not. We’re not going to say they must install this, people have to make that decision.

It’s down to people; we’re working with the OEMs but they can make the decision for themselves, we won’t be pushing them to do this by any means.

This is obviously going to have a big impact on AV (anti-virus) software companies; how is the industry reacting to this news?

Kaspersky’s David Emm (DE): It would be naive to say it doesn’t have any implications, but it will depend, I think, on how significant the impact will be.

We’re not immediately concerned; if you look at the developments in the last 10 years or more in anti-virus software, it has gone through several iterations.

These days, protection for consumers is a lot more than merely signature recognition. It’s a lot more than strictly anti-virus (AV); a specific AV offering doesn’t encompass all of that and clearly there is still a marketplace for other people.

MSS: shaking up industry

More cynical people will question exactly what is in this for Microsoft. Is it purely altruistic?

CE: It’s okay to have that conversation, because obviously we are a business. I would say that lots of people are using Windows software, so it does make sense that we want to ensure that our customers are protected. Microsoft Security Essentials does, in many ways, protect the Windows ecosystem to ensure that it is secure.

What impact can we expect this to have on a global level?

DE: One of [Microsoft’s] aims was to put a product specifically into developing markets and one of the key reasons for this is that there are areas around the globe where epidemics can get a foothold.

Microsoft is saying that if they can get the product in on that market then maybe we can help out in the places where the malware bubbles up. It can only be beneficial.

CE: It’s available in 19 countries today, with more to follow this year and next. We’re trying to address that with a lightweight, pure anti-malware product that can be installed on a less powerful machine.

Do you have any targets in terms of how many downloads you expect of Microsoft Security Essentials?

CE: We don’t have targets, but we are geared up for a large number of downloads – we hope it will be very popular. We are preparing for that.

It’s difficult to say how long its going to take. All we can do is put it out there and publicize it.

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