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Microsoft hopes free security means less malware
Robert Lemos, SecurityFocus 2008-11-20

Call it Microsoft's lemonade-from-lemons moment.

On Tuesday, the software giant announced it would stop selling its consumer security service, Windows Live OneCare, at the end of June and re-release a more nimble version of the software as a free download by the end of the 2009. While competitors and analysts have pointed out that the company's service made few inroads in the consumer market since it was offered as a beta three years ago, Microsoft has focused beyond the death of OneCare to its rebirth as a free service codenamed Morro.

Revamping the technology, company representatives say, could help Microsoft inoculate consumers whose Windows systems are most vulnerable to malicious code: Users of older versions of its software, especially in developing nations, where Microsoft is facing a quiet epidemic in infections. In its latest Security Intelligence Report, for example, the company saw the proportion of computers cleaned by its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) jump by 25 percent to 10 systems cleaned per 1,000 that ran the tool, continuing a steady climb that started in the second half of 2006.

While other factors -- such as adding the ability to detect new malware families -- contributed to the increase, online criminals are still finding it easy to seek out vulnerable PCs, said Amy Barzdukas, senior product director for Microsoft's Online Services and Windows Division.

"Far, far too many consumers are not using or not keeping up to date with malware protection," Barzdukas said. "We want to offer them a core anti-malware solution." Targeting the consumers not currently protected by antivirus and anti-malware software was always the point of Microsoft's foray into the anti-malware market, Barzdukas added.

Microsoft announced Windows Live OneCare as a beta product three years ago, kicking off the security-as-a-service model for consumers. In February 2006, the company announced that it set the final service's subscription price at $49.95 for up to three computers, significantly lowering a household's cost to protect computers. Antivirus firms Symantec, the owner of SecurityFocus, and McAfee soon followed with their own security services.

Yet, OneCare has had trouble winning over consumers, said Arabella Hallawell, research vice president for business intelligence firm Gartner.

"Everyone, including Gartner, thought that Microsoft would pick up some consumer market share, but they didn't," said Hallawell, who covers the security market for Gartner. Instead, consumers have continued to gravitate toward high-end security suites and services, she said.

Security firms confirmed that the trend. McAfee notched 80 percent year-over-year growth in its premium products. Symantec confirmed similar interest in its high-end software and Norton 360 service. Industry estimates of Microsoft's market share never exceeded single digits.

"Customers are more and more aware of the threats in the market and really moving up the line," said Todd Gebhart, executive vice president and general manager for McAfee's Consumer, Mobile and Small Business group.

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